Compulsory medical exam could prevent abuse of helpers
There has been much finger pointing in the past several months over the treatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
The truth is, some employers are mean and abusive, and some helpers are dishonest and lazy. Equally true is that most employers are fair and treat their helpers with respect; and most helpers are honest, hard-working, law-abiding and loyal.
That said, it is incumbent upon the Hong Kong government to work with the consulates of service-providing countries (such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka) to safeguard the well-being of foreign domestic helpers.
One suggestion is to implement a compulsory annual medical examination (at the employer's expense). A medical report would be submitted to the Labour Department within 30 days of the anniversary date of the employment contract, failing which the contract would be terminated and the employer would not be allowed to hire a new helper for at least one year. A compulsory medical would also be done prior to the approval of contract renewal.
Of course, doctors would have to report all cases of suspected abuse, whether physical or emotional.
Consulates of countries from where helpers come would also implement a follow-up programme. Helpers could be required to call in to their respective consulates six months after starting a new contract (perhaps three months for newcomers).
Many abused helpers have claimed that they were forbidden outside contact and hence could not escape their abusive employers.
Making follow-up interviews and medical check-ups compulsory would provide opportunities for them to seek help; and authorities would be alerted that something may be amiss when a helper fails to show up after repeated reminders. I believe these requirements will serve as effective deterrents to abusive behaviour.
Let's be realistic. Many of us need, or would like to have the help of, a domestic helper.
Equally true is that foreign domestic helpers are here because they are better paid than at home. Take my current helper as an example - she earns enough to hire a domestic helper to look after her own family in the Philippines, help support her family's farming business and educate her son.
We need each other, so let's find a way to work and live together with mutual respect.
L. Chang, The Peak