Letters to the Editor, February 3, 2014

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 2014, 3:48am

Strip agency of licence if it lets down maids

The tragic story of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih puts the plight of domestic workers, in particular the Indonesians, back in the spotlight and I hope it remains there for some time.

The Labour Department's idea to launch a half-day course to educate newly arrived foreign domestic workers of their rights as well as distributing leaflets outlining their rights and ways to report abuse is a small step, but you can be sure that the very employers likely to mistreat and abuse their maids will not be sending them off to learn about such rights.

However, the idea of imposing licensing conditions on employment agencies would be a faster and more effective way to protect these women. These agencies should be held accountable for ensuring a contract is honoured and upheld.

If they were compelled to follow up on the conditions of the domestic workers from whom they earn so much but for whom they do so little, then these injustices may be less likely to occur. And those that do not comply should be named, shamed and their licence withdrawn.

Unfortunately, agencies are often in collusion with the employer. But the prospect of losing their licence may make them think twice. Furthermore, employers with a bad record should face punitive action and not be permitted to go on signing new contracts. Domestic helpers are not commodities.

I know of an employer who underpaid, gave no food allowance and did not give holidays to her previous maid. Despite the agency being informed of her situation, it did nothing to help her.

On completion of her contract, the same agency sent another Indonesian girl who has a half-day holiday every two weeks and is reprimanded if seen speaking to anyone outside her workplace.

The maid is too frightened to seek help or allow someone to intervene on her behalf. It is heartbreaking to watch this abuse and be unable to do anything. Government legislation is needed.

M. James, Sai Kung


Asking far too much of officers

It is getting more and more difficult to be a civil servant.

I note with dismay that the Immigration Department was blamed for not detecting that the helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, had been [allegedly] abused by her employer ("'Abused' helper to claim for injuries", January 28).

Apart from the explanation given by the director of immigration, I would like to add that the officer at the counter may also have thought that Ms Erwiana had, for example, met with an accident.

If officers question everyone with such a physical appearance before allowing them to go to the boarding gates at the airport, then they may be accused of inefficiency by the thousands of people queuing up every day at the immigration counters.

Besides, is it not the duty of our police to deal with alleged crimes of violence, rather than the Immigration Department?

Simon Yau, Kowloon City


Green belt loss will not help middle class

The announcement in the policy address that due attention would be paid to the environment when considering the rezoning of green belt land to provide land for new housing did nothing to boost my confidence that this would actually happen.

I have now seen one example of where it blatantly has not.

The low-rise developments at the upper end of Lo Fai Road in Tai Po were all built on platforms created when spoil was required for the Tai Po Industrial Estate reclamation, and to screen these developments and maintain a green vista when viewed from Tolo Harbour, a forested mound was retained.

Only Tycoon Place intrudes on this view, but all that will change, as this area is now scheduled to be rezoned from green belt to be sold for what can only be low-rise luxury development.

Many trees will be felled and the mound levelled to provide housing, not for the middle class who need it, but for people who are already well catered for in the luxury market.

This smacks of bureaucrats overruling professional common sense simply to come up with numbers, but the irony is that this site will not provide a great number of units, and it could be preserved with very little impact on the overall number of units scheduled to be provided in Tai Po District.

It also makes a nonsense of the chief executive's pledge and makes me wonder just how much the emphasis is on numbers at the expense of everything else.

Green belt sites were after all designated by planners to provide buffers from development, not to be developed.

Yes, there are difficult choices to be made, but please let them be made wisely.

Allan Hay, Tai Po


Terminal left very negative impression

I recently visited Hong Kong as a passenger on a cruise ship docked at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Architecturally a designer's daydream, it is a user's nightmare. A kilometre-long trek from ship to exit requires ground staff to guide you through a maze of empty corridors to find exactly nothing at the end.

There is no Tourism Board office, no currency exchange or ATM, no taxis and an hourly shuttle bus service to a shopping mall. Other passengers found it impossible to get taxis to take them back to the terminal as the drivers did not know the way - better signage and taxi driver education is needed. The initial impression this gives is very negative, even more so for those with mobility problems.

The terminal urgently needs a regular free public bus shuttle service to an MTR station and, in the longer term, a direct connection to the MTR if this edifice is to benefit the tourism sector.

Stephen Harrison, St Privat, France


Prevailing culture of generosity

Fundraising drives for charities, like Operation Santa Claus, illustrate that there is a wealth of generosity and sympathy for those in need in Hong Kong.

At weekends you see children with their parents collecting donations for various charities, with their pages of stickers bearing the name of the designated organisation.

They are always very courteous as they approach passers-by. Some are there on behalf of religious schools, which adhere to the belief of helping the poor and the feeble.

I think this reflects positively on society as a whole. The culture of benevolence, and the habit of giving to those who are less fortunate and feeling empathy for them, is normal in Hong Kong. It sets a good example which other cities in China would do well to follow.

Wang Yuke, Tai Wai


We can all help to reduce waste volumes

A public consultation on ways to charge people for disposal of waste ended last month.

This waste levy will be paid by every Hong Kong household and the hope is that it will encourage people to be less wasteful, recycle more material and that, as a result, less refuse will end up in our landfills.

Relying on landfills as the principal way to deal with Hong Kong's rubbish is obviously not sustainable.

In the policy address this year, it was clear the government was already trying to aim for long-term measures, with a HK$1 billion fund to promote recycling and the sustainable development of this sector. This will include collecting recyclable material in the community.

The chief executive also talked about facilities to "convert organic waste into energy and other useful resources".

These initiatives can help the government find a number of ways to tackle Hong Kong's waste problem and I am sure they will be welcomed by the public. But the management of waste is a community duty.

It is important for all Hong Kong citizens to co-operate with the government and the policies it is introducing in an attempt to reduce volumes of household waste.

All of us can adhere to the 3Rs principle when it comes to separating domestic waste - reuse, reduce, recycle. This could help the whole Hong Kong community to have a comprehensive recycling system.

With a systematic approach volumes of waste can be reduced in the city.

Rainie Kwok Sze-yu, Tseung Kwan O


With so many cars, we face gridlock

While there may be too few parking spaces in Hong Kong a much bigger problem is that there are too many (big) cars.

If the last five years saw a 20 per cent increase in car numbers in the city, where will we be in five years' time? Well, in a traffic jam obviously.

I haven't heard of any measure announced or planned to stop all traffic in Hong Kong come to a grinding halt in the near future.

Is there a hidden policy of hoping things will get so bad that private car owners will opt out voluntarily?

Something has to be done to save the public transport system from drowning in a sea of private vehicles.

Creating more bus lanes or prohibiting cars with fewer than three people inside (or five in a seven-seater excluding the driver) during rush hours would serve a double purpose. It would reward people who opted for public transport and make life more miserable for private car owners, which in turn would further stimulate the use of public transport.

Josephine Bersee, Happy Valley