A legal thicket
Labour experts and legislators have called on the government to provide for a contractual probation period and discretionary power for employers to terminate a contract in exceptional circumstances such as pregnancy and terminal illness. Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association chairman Joseph Law says the unique live-in nature of helpers puts employers in a difficult situation when maids get pregnant. 'With the exception of 10 weeks maternity leave, a pregnant helper stays at the employer's home throughout the pregnancy. But they can't continue their jobs while pregnant. Employers have to take care of them, which is ridiculous,' he says. Law says there should be separate provisions concerning a helper's pregnancy and terminal illness. 'The employer should be allowed to ask the maid to go back to her home country to give birth and continue employment after delivery. Helpers giving birth here also gives rise to complicated right-of-abode issues. 'For those with terminal illnesses, employers should enjoy discretion to terminate the contract with severance pay of up to two months' salary.' Legislators including Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee called on the government last year to provide a contractual probation period during which both parties can terminate the contract to reduce punitive damages for contractual breaches. But Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung says it is a complex issue. 'The probation period can be abused by both parties,' he says. 'Not only might it inconvenience employers, but it can also lead to financial loss to helpers.'