~by Kathy Lam Lai King
What does the contract say about food?
5(b). The Employer shall provide the helper with suitable and furnished accommodation as per the attached Schedule of Accommodation and Domestic Duties and food free of charge. If no food is provided, a food allowance of HK$1053 a month shall be paid to the helper.
It seems easy to understand: employers can decide if they want to provide their foreign domestic helpers with food, or give them food allowance. However, what is the meaning of “providing food”? A few years ago Arrow conducted internal research, and was surprised to find out that lack of food is the most common reason for a helper to quit.
When studied in detail, we found that there are big difference between employers and helpers about the interpretation of the meaning of “ providing food”. Conflicting understandings of what it means to "provide food" lead to actual conflicts and premature terminations.
Common Conflicts on Food
Hong Kong Employers
Filipino Domestic Helpers
eat 3 meals per day, i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner.
eat 5-7 times per day breakfast, lunch, dinner AND afternoon tea +/- morning snack before breakfast, morning tea, night snack.
Assume they are reasonable employers because they provide the helpers food for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Believe that the helpers should buy their own snacks.
Assume their employer will provide food whenever she is hungry, that means provide 5-7 meals per day.
Think helpers should eat whatever the employer provides.
May dislike the food the employers provide.
Feel offended if the helper ask for food allowance.
If the employer fails to provide them with enough food or they dislike the food provided they will ask for the "food allowance". They do not want to have conflicts with employers over food and this seems to them a reasonable alternative.
Some employers want their helper to eat healthy.
Other employers do not care if the food the helper eats is healthy & provide the helpers with food of poor nutritional value, e.g. instant noodle, congee, canned food, leftovers, food from McDonalds etc.
Some helpers don't worry about healthy or not, they just buy whatever is affordable and familiar.
Other helpers like to eat healthy and eat fresh food, dislike the food left overnight, canned food and instant noodle.
employers think all helpers should know where to find something to eat. If a helper does not know what and when to eat, she should ask the employer.
Some helpers are hungry because of they do not know what/when to eat, or they are afraid to eat if the employer does not tell her what to eat. Filipinos are shy to ask question related to food.
How to avoid/resolve conflicts over food
- Employers should talk about food openly with applicants
- During the interview ask applicants if they have dietary restrictions and state clearly what you expect the food arrangements will be.
- If they are unhappy with the food, will you consider giving them a food allowance instead? If so, tell them so when you confirm to hire them.
- If you choose to provide food, please state clearly what kind of food she can eat, what kind of food she cannot eat without your permission, what and when to eat for breakfast, lunch, if they need to wait for your permission before they can eat.
- If you choose to give a food allowance please give the allowance at the beginning of the month, not at the end of the month, so they have money to buy food.
- Respect their choice of food
Some employers and helpers like to eat healthy, some employers and helpers do not care if the food is healthy. If you give your helpers food allowance, you may advise them to eat healthy, but need to respect their choice on food. Helpers should not be picky about the food provided by the employer. If it is inadequate or not enough they should tell this to their employers and not be shy.
- Provide some snacks at home, so the helper can eat when they feel hungry.
Learn more insights on how to manage a Filipino worker by attending our Employer Orientation Class (僱主裝備班). You will learn about the common problems that arise between employers and helpers and how to prevent and resolve them.