Hong Kong needs to relax its stance on minor issues that affect domestic helpers. Whether to allow domestic helpers permanent residency or not is something that always sparks debate, but it's a nationalistic decision above all else.
Not budging, even after years of pleas by domestic helpers' groups who claim the government's policies make helpers vulnerable to abuse, is equivalent to ignoring human rights.
All it takes is one more helper to sue her employer for abuse - whether true or false - before the issue blows up and Hong Kong legislators are left red-faced. If they take appropriate action and address the issue now, they avoid potential lawsuits, and they avoid cases like those of Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih last year.
Alone, in a foreign country, and vulnerable, the domestic helpers who immigrate to Hong Kong in search of a job are exploited by employment agencies, who charge fees of up to HK$20,000 to help them find a home. This is despite laws specifying that only 10 per cent of the first month's salary can be charged as a placement fee.
The two policies that the rights groups particularly oppose are the live-in requirement and the two-week rule. The live-in requirement states that domestic helpers must live with their employers. This, as domestic helpers' groups point out, removes the possibility of helpers escaping should they be abused. The two-week rule means domestic helpers must leave Hong Kong within two weeks of their contracts ending.
As it takes four to six weeks to get a new visa, domestic helpers find themselves trapped in a job, with no real possibility of changing employers. Domestic helpers' groups argue that this forces helpers to put up with abuse just to hold on to their jobs.
The Philippines' labour chief suggested that these rules should be revised, but no action has been taken so far.
Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said that she is planning to visit Indonesia and the Philippines to talk about the issue, after the Hong Kong government declined to participate in meetings with the consulates of those two countries.
By forging ahead despite government opposition, Lau has divided public opinion even further and made the authorities seem incompetent and ineffective. More than their image is at stake, however. The government needs to act humanely and listen carefully.