Labors of Love: Changes in Familial and Personal Networks of Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong


Filipino women migrate to join the domestic labor industry for economic reasons: Abroad, they can find better work with better pay. When these workers arrive in Hong Kong, however, they often find it difficult to adapt or meet the newfound pressures there are placed on them. Among other issues, workers contend with their new roles as breadwinners and providers, struggle to adapt to cultural codes and customs in a foreign working environment, and work for longer than they expected without reaching their economic goals.

Instabilities lead to tensions in workers’ relationships: both personal familial networks with home and their professional domestic labor relationships overseas. Workers come to exist in a state of precarity, with frequent terminations and high turnover. By one estimate, around 30-40 percent of domestic workers placed by agencies in Hong Kong do not finish their two-year contracts. One reason for this is the social displacement they experience from conventional kinship and community networks. A strong factor in these trends is that many Filipino domestic workers do not arrive well-equipped for life in Hong Kong.

Many NGO and civil society organizations believe that preparing workers for the complex cultural and socioeconomic realities of migration is crucial to positive employment outcomes. This view is shared by Fair Training Center, which aims to holistically prepare Filipina women for work abroad as domestic workers. In this light, looking more closely into how migration and employment trajectories intersect is a particularly productive site of research and programming.

This project is interested in mapping out the relational trajectories of Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. Namely, it is interested in the way the social worlds of these workers are unmade through migration and remade overseas, and how these changes shape the way workers think of their motives, their families, their work, their futures, and themselves.

  • How do family ties drive workers’ decisions to go abroad?
  • How does family shape the way workers conceptualize their work?
  • How do workers manage existing relational networks and develop new ones?

The research report will consist of a summary of results from a dataset of 25 qualitative interviews with Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong. Accompanying the report is a recommendation memorandum, compiling advice and strategies from workers on how to manage their relationships with family and employers while working overseas.