Some foreign domestic helpers in HK are treated like slaves

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2008, 12:00am

I fully agree with Mary Ann Benitez ('Rough justice', August 20) that the two-week rule for overseas domestic helpers ['the period in which they must find a new job after their contract is up, or leave Hong Kong'] is an appalling policy that benefits no one except bad employers.

This policy was introduced by a senior official about 20 years ago. I have always opposed it. The United Nations Committee on Discrimination against Women has condemned the policy, and it is disgraceful that Hong Kong continues with it.

I know cases of maids who suffer cruel injustices but are afraid to report them because they know that a bad employer is free to give any excuse to sack a helper. The helper cannot claim justice and she cannot afford to live without working. The employer, accused by the helper with an offence, can delay the case repeatedly and after being found guilty continue to appeal, forcing the helper to accept injustice because she has no means of living.

The introduction of the [maid] levy was another hidden injustice because bad or mean employers immediately reduced the helpers' salaries to the minimum. For example, helpers employed in the year 2000, when the minimum salary was HK$3,860, found their salaries reduced and after five contracts they are still paid less than in 2000.

Good employers raise the salaries of their helpers after completion of each contract which is reasonable.

If the employer is in financial difficulty the helper is usually very understanding and accepts the minimum, but no one should take advantage of a helper's generosity.

Overseas domestic helpers are human beings and should be treated as such, but are sometimes more like slaves, yet they may have a higher standard of education than their employers.

They also face the rising cost of living of their families and a host of unfair taxes and charges in transmitting money home, suffering more injustices while being called heroes by their governments.

We should appreciate how much overseas helpers contribute to our well-being. The two-week rule should be abolished, not used as a threat.

Elsie Tu, Kwun Tong