By Cynthia Tellez
There are some provisions in the employment contract that are often not given their due importance. One is on food provision or food allowance. Some take this lightly maybe because there is no immediate effect unlike physical assault, non-payment of wages and the like.
In the 2016 Mission’s Service Report, 26% of the clients we assisted complained about insufficient food. In absolute number, this is 326 of the new clients. This is actually a growing concern.
Food is one of the very basic needs of any living creature. We need to eat and drink aside from putting on clothes to protect our health, and a place to get sufficient rest in order to be able to work.
Food is very important to maintain a healthy body. For many of us who are not rich, the health and strength of our physical body is what we need in order for us to work and earn a living for us and our family. That is why we need to be healthy, and to achieve this, we need nutritious food. Vitamins or food supplements cannot replace the nutrition we get from food.
The effect of lack of food (or insufficient amount of food) cannot be noticed immediately. The effect on our health of eating food lacking in nutrition such as having noodles or only two slices of bread each day, will have ill-effect on our health in the long term.
Presently, the food allowance is pegged at $1,032 per month. This is if the employer is not providing free food.
For those who do provide food, it is unacceptable that two pieces of bread a day can be considered as complying with the clause on free food. It is better if employers would just provide a food allowance so FDWs can buy their own nutritious food.
As a matter of principle and as a matter of right, FDWs have the legal right to free food, or food allowance. An employer is obligated to provide this to a domestic worker in accordance with the employment contract. Non-compliance amounts to a breach of the employment contract, and must be penalised.
But whether this is being seriously attended to by the Labour Department is another matter. The Mission knows that the authorities have no means to monitor compliance by the employer with this clause, but we cannot wait until such mechanism is in place.
In the absence of well defined guidelines that can be used to measure compliance, details and specifics play an important role in determining whether an employer is negligent in not providing enough food to a worker, thus causing health problems
1. For new arrivals, if you still have a record of your medical certificate, better keep it for future use as proof of your health condition upon arrival in Hong Kong.
2. Those who have been working for sometime, do the same and keep all medical records of your consultations with doctors.
3. Do not hesitate to tell your employer that you need to see a doctor if you are not feeling well. Keep all documents and records of the results of your consultation. Tell your doctor the nature of your job, the amount of work it entails, the amount and nature of the food that you eat, sufficient/insufficient rest, or anything that can provide the doctor of your actual condition. This will help in the accuracy of the doctor’s evaluation of your health situation. Notify your employer if you are given sick leave. Keep copies in your file.
4. Talk with your employer about the kind of food given you. Tell them that you cannot eat only noodles all the time. You need some vegetables and also some meat or fish for the nutrition your body needs. The conversation must be written in you diary, especially your employer’s response.
5. Keep a diary of the kind of food you are given for every meal each day. Take a picture of them. The diary should carry the dates, time and description of food.
6. If your employer prohibits you to cook for yourself any food items in their refrigerator (especially when eggs, meat, vegetables, are marked with numbers) take a picture of that.
7. If you are buying your own food, keep the receipts, and write down the details in your diary.
8. If you have a close friend, tell her your difficulties regarding food provision.
After a certain period of time – say two or more months of recording – inform the Labour Department, Immigration Department and the Consulate about your condition on food provision. If there is a series of health-related complaints, attach to your letter a photocopy of the medical prescription/diagnosis of the doctor.
The deterioration in your health is often not immediate, and it could take time before you notice it. Thus, your own monitoring and recording of your work condition will help the doctor in giving an accurate diagnosis. If your health condition can be attributed to a lack of rest, insufficient food, overwork and other work-related reasons, you can approach the Labour Department upon consultation with service providers like the Mission.
Regular monitoring of what you are fed, and records of your conversation with your employer about your condition, can help a lot in supporting your claim that your employee’s negligence was the reason for the deterioration in your health. If the health problem has a permanent effect that lessens your capacity to carry out your duties as before, then you should be compensated (on top of the usual contractual obligations of your employer).
Again, let us not take our health for granted as the effect of insufficient food might be permanent. The precautions can be too taxing, like monitoring, but it is all worth it because ill health could affect our, and our family’s future.