Free the Discovery Bay six – or charge employers too
Anna Healy Fenton
The posh coffee machines of Discovery Bay are filtering overtime as the employers of live-out domestic helpers anxiously finger their worry beads. The reason for this twitching is the Immigration Department raid in July, when officers swooped and arrested a bunch of DB helpers who were allegedly caught living out, instead of being shoehorned into the closets Hong Kong and DB developers jokingly call maids’ quarters. This “maids must live-in” rule was tightened in 2003 and only people employing their helper continuously since pre-2003 are now allowed to have him or her live out.
Rules are specific
The Immigration Department website is not at all vague. Under Q14, restrictions on deployment of a foreign domestic helper, A14 says: “an FDH is admitted into Hong Kong for full-time, live-in employment with a specific employer to perform domestic duties at the employer's residence specified in the Standard Employment Contract (ID407).” Breaches “will render the helper and/or any aider and abettor liable to criminal prosecution.”
The operative words here are “LIVE IN,” and the helper/and any aider liable is liable to prosecution -prison and prosecution and eventual deportation for the helper and huge fines for the employer for allowing this. In addition, they would not be allowed to employ another helper and the helper has zero chance of another FDH contract in Hong Kong. So you’re right to be jumpy over there in DB. And everywhere else, if your maid lives out without permission.
Interestingly, although the DB helpers were arrested two months ago, the Filipino newspapers have only now piped up again. Immigration Department conducted an enforcement operation at Nim Shue Wan Tsuen of Discovery Bay on 16 July 2013 and arrested a total of six foreign domestic helpers who were suspected to have made false representation to immigration officers, reports the Hong Kong News today.
The Immigration Department told the newspaper by email that employers who wish to employ a domestic worker shall enter into an employment contract, clause 3 of which provides that the worker shall work and reside in the employer’s residence. “Employers who have obtained approval before April 1, 2003 for their workers to stay out may continue to do so as long as they continue to employ foreign domestic helpers without a break of more than six months,” Immigration said.
Making a false representation to immigration officers is an offense in Hong Kong, they continue. “Offenders are liable to prosecution and to a maximum fine of $150,000 and imprisonment for 14 years. Aiders and abettors are also liable to prosecution and the same penalties,” the Immigration Department adds.
So why have the half dozen helpers been nicked, but not, as yet, the employers? This is all interesting for several reasons. It’s anyone’s guess how many maids live out, but it must run into the tens of thousands. Many flats in Hong kong are simply too small to accommodate them and many prefer it, anyway.
A quick call to a lawyer close to these cases confirmed that it’s unusual because prosecutions for living out are very rare. And to the solicitor’s knowledge, no employer has ever been charged either, though logically, they are as culpable as the maid.
It’s clearly unfair to punish the maid, when the employer is equally to blame. But there’s no sign of nasty consequences for employers this time. And this issue will undoubtedly be raised when these cases come to court. Apparently it’s already being discussed in the corridors of power. Funnily enough, it seems no court date has yet been set, though the arrests were in mid-July. In their defence, Immigration Department staff are apparently stretched just now, swamped with mainland kids trotting to and fro across the border to attend school.
So the question remains: what will become of the DB Six? It’s downright unfair if they lose their jobs, get banged up for eight weeks and then deported, while their employers get off scot-free. Let’s just bin this silly rule once and de-criminalise it, once and for all. If helpers wish or need to live out, let them.