30 March 2020

Food Allowance vs. Free Food for Domestic Helpers: How to Decide?

By law, employers of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong are responsible for their workers’ welfare and must guarantee their well-being at all times during their employment i.e. they must ensure that they eat and sleep well and enough, and have access to adequate medical care when necessary. Those are key aspects if they are to perform well especially as they tend to work long hours.

As such, domestic workers in Hong Kong are entitled to either getting a food allowance or free food instead from their employers. The amount of the food allowance foreign domestic workers receive from their employers, along with their salary, is legally set at a minimum – currently at not less than $1,053per month for contracts signed on or after 30 September 2017 – and updated on a regular basis.

Whether your helper should receive a food allowance or free food in lieu is a personal choice – yours and your helper’s. Whatever alternative you opt for should be convenient for both of you and agreed upon before the employment period starts. Ideally, the subject matter should be mentioned in the job description so applicants know what they are in for but also brought up and discussed at the interview stage. You might also want to bring up any ground rules right from the onset to avoid any tensions that may appear at a later point.

Opting for a food allowance

Domestic helpers are entitled to receiving a food allowance to cover their food-related costs i.e. it is aimed at enabling them to procure items that are to be consumed to meet their dietary needs. Thus, it excludes non-food items such as detergent, soap, toiletries etc.

Why you should opt for this?

Providing your domestic helper with a food allowance probably is the best alternative if your helper has different food choices. Keep in mind that the latter might differ based on her religion, culture or even due to diet-related issues e.g. some Indonesian helpers do not eat pork, some Sri Lankan helpers are fully vegetarian, and domestic helpers with diabetes must control their sugar intake, etc. By providing her with a food allowance, your helper will be able to buy whatever food she prefers or fancies and that meets her needs and habits.


What to keep in mind before settling on this alternative

Be clear on certain key information that your domestic helper-to-be should possess if she is to make an informed decision before signing a Standard Employment Contract with you:

  • Let her know what happens when you are not home or on her rest days. Will she be allowed to cook only for herself? If not, will she be getting an allowance to spend on her meals?
  • Is she allowed to help herself to any item in the pantry and/or fridge or are certain items off-limits to her? Should that be the case, let her know which ones are so there is no confusion or disputes over this – if necessary, make a detailed list.

Should you decide to provide your domestic worker with free food, ensure that it is actually nutritious and that you supply her with enough food to meet her needs and dietary requirements. While there is nothing wrong with eating leftovers, your helper should be entitled to eating whatever your family eats e.g. leftovers when everybody is having leftovers and freshly prepared meals when everyone in the household is having them.

If – at times – the food you provide your helper does not suit her, or should she fancy something else, you might want to have her add the items she wants to the grocery list or allow her to get whatever she needs at the supermarket and/or market at your expenses as long as it is within reason.