Errant employment agencies will be reined in to protect Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 1:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 1:35pm

I am encouraged by your editorial “If the code of practice to protect domestic helpers fails, legislation must follow” (April 25) about the Draft Code of Practice for Employment Agencies issued by the Labour Department for public consultation until mid-June.

Over 340,000 foreign domestic helpers are currently working in Hong Kong. We are grateful for their sterling support to some 270,000 families. Employment agencies play a pivotal role between them and their employers.

The code aims to step up regulation of employment agencies, including the 1,400 agencies for foreign domestic helpers.

Your editorial urged me to “sharpen the code’s teeth” by making it a promise to make the code mandatory through legislation. In fact, I did pledge in the Legislative Council’s panel on manpower meeting on April 19 (and this was reiterated in my latest blog article) that if the code fails to serve its purpose after a period of implementation, I will not hesitate to go for legislation and other stronger measures.

Whether an employment agency licensee/applicant could meet the standards set out in the code will be an important factor when the commissioner for labour considers whether he/she is a fit and proper person to run an employment agency. Breaching the code may lead to serious consequences, including revocation or refusal of licence application.

The Hong Kong special administration region government is committed to safeguarding the rights of helpers and their employers.

Apart from the draft code, the Labour Department has just launched two other measures. These are a pictorial leaflet setting out succinctly the respective “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for helpers, employers and employment agencies, as well as a dedicated website (www.fdh.labour.gov.hk) to provide a one-stop online platform for helpers and employers.

The “FDH Corner” of the website is available in Tagalog and Indonesian while work on a Thai version is under way. This should enable helpers to readily access essential information and channels for assistance both before and after their arrival in Hong Kong.

To tackle at root the thorny problem of many helpers being indebted before they set foot here, we have strengthened collaboration with the relevant overseas governments. It is noteworthy that the draft code requires employment agencies not to be involved in the helpers’ financial affairs.

We will continue to adopt a multipronged approach to step up enforcement and education to protect the well-being of foreign domestic helpers.

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, secretary for labour and welfare