Mary Ann Benitez and Stephanie Chan
The 4.5 percent increase is their biggest lift in years, though it does no more than keep pace with inflation. Additionally, a food allowance was raised by HK$25, or 3.3 percent, to HK$775 a month.
The raised levels of the minimum allowable wage and the food allowance that were revealed by government officials yesterday apply to all contracts signed from today.
But bosses of the 290,000 helpers are already complaining that they face hardship from the pay hike as it comes alongside the increased cost of living.
Joseph Law, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said: "It [pay] affects domestic helpers six days a week. But inflation affects employers 30 days a month."
Maggie Cheung, a worker at the Reharja Employment Agency, said: "Everything is becoming so expensive, and on top of that you have to pay for a maid's dental fees, their doctor's fees - everything.
"[People] need a maid, so they'll sacrifice a meal a week, or something else, but it's not fair to Hong Kong citizens."
Helpers' union leaders claim that that with the increased cost of living maids can barely save. They have already threatened to seek a judicial review as foreign domestic helpers are excluded from the minimum wage law, which took effect on May 1.
The minimum wage is set at HK$28 an hour, or HK$5,376 a month for someone working eight hours a day, six days a week.
The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, which groups unions for Filipino, Indonesian, Thai and South Asian helpers, has called a rally for July 1 to press for a minimum HK$4,000 a month.
Group spokeswoman Eni Lestari, who is also chairwoman of the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, said: "It's better than last year, but in 1998 the wage was HK$3,860 and [goods then] were not as expensive as now."
She added: "We may have more money but we can buy less things. HK$4,000 should be the minimum wage. The government owes [us] a lot."
Another spokeswoman for the group, Iwengkarsiwen, said she has worked in Hong Kong for 11 years but does not have any money in a bank account. Most of her salary is spent in Hong Kong on food, clothing, and mobile phone charges, she said, meaning only HK$1,000-HK$1,500 goes to 10 siblings back home.
Dolores Balladares, chairwoman of United Filipinos, was surprised the pay rise was revealed yesterday as they had been told to expect an announcement in August.
She also said bosses should be able to afford HK$4,000, noting that even during the 2003 SARS crisis when a helper's wage was cut to HK$3,270 employers could still manage a HK$400-a-month levy.
The government has frozen the levy until July 30, 2013, to ease inflationary pressure on employers. Balladares also said the increased food allowance would only impact "1 percent of helpers."