Punishment for maid not over with conviction

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2002, 12:00am

You report (Sunday Morning Post, January 6) that the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association is whining about what it sees as unfair discrimination in the magistrates' courts. It is referring to the sentencing of, on the one hand, employers and, on the other, foreign domestic helpers, in cases where the defendant has been convicted of a crime.

There is no level playing field in the context in which this question is raised.

The common case where the employer is convicted is one of physical abuse of the helper. The common case where the helper is convicted is one of physical abuse of a child in the helper's care. Both are more serious than the case where you or I punch a passerby on the nose, because of the special relationships that exist in the first two cases, where the employer has a duty to respect the helper and the helper has a duty to observe the trust reposed in her.

An employer convicted of the kind of crime I have described will normally suffer no penalty beyond what is imposed by the magistrate. A convicted helper will normally incur an additional penalty, being banned from working again in Hong Kong.

To say that normally the employer will suffer no penalty beyond what the magistrate imposes, states the usual practical effect. In theory an abused helper has civil remedies, but the average domestic is unaware of her right to claim them.

An employer can seek a civil remedy where the employee has been convicted of, for example, hitting her employer's child in her care. However, to adopt the jargon of litigation lawyers, the helper is not worth powder and shot. In that respect the playing field tilts the other way.

If the employers' association wants to help its members, it might be no bad thing if it would:

Undertake an in-depth study of the causes of child abuse by helpers, and

Educate its members in the light of what this study reveals.

I believe abuse usually arises only where some kind of conflict already exists, and it is the duty of the master or mistress of the house to ensure the absence of conflict.

As to the proposed cut in the minimum wage, it strikes me as childish and likely to benefit nobody.


United Migrant Workers Interim Trust