Hong Kong widens search for domestic helpers to Bangladesh

Agency association boss says agreement with Bangladesh is close, but Myanmar, Vietnam and mainland stay off-limits as curbs begin to bite

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 3:57am

As the main sources of overseas domestic helpers look at curbing the flow of their citizens to Hong Kong, the government and employment agencies are searching further afield, according to the head of an agency association.

Joe Chow Kui-kuen said the government had been in talks with the Bangladeshi government about allowing its people to work in Hong Kong as helpers and "as far as I know, success is near".

Agencies had also been in talks with the government about opening the door to helpers from countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam but without success, the chairman of the Asosiasi PPTKI Hong Kong said.

The government, meanwhile is maintaining a ban on employment of mainland maids - despite language and cultural advantages - because of concerns it would be too easy for them to blend into the local population and abuse the system.

Chow said Bangladeshi officials met Labour Department officials in Hong Kong about six months ago.

But even if these talks are eventually successful, he said, it would not solve a looming shortage of maids because Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers make up almost the entire helper workforce in Hong Kong.

According to Immigration Department figures, there were 149,009 Filipino and 152,557 Indonesian domestic helpers in the city in July, accounting for 97.6 per cent of the total.

''The government has said there is no shortage of domestic helpers and so it has been reluctant to open the door to some countries,'' Chow said.

It had refused to open the door to Vietnam because of "safety reasons", without explaining what that meant, Chow added. Maids from Taiwan and Nepal are also blocked.

Chow said the government had allowed people from Myanmar to come to Hong Kong as domestic helpers, but the Myanmar government did not like the term ''domestic helper'' and so the deal was scrapped.

A Labour Department spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether the department's officials had met Bangladeshi officials.

Richard Lam Kwok-chuen, spokesman for the Metro Asia Recruitment Services Company, said many agencies - including his own - would probably have to shut down by 2017 if the Philippine and Indonesian governments curbed the flow of maids from their countries.

He said local domestic helpers would not be the solution because they were much more expensive.

Lobbying by a cross-border group of maid agencies for mainland helpers to be allowed into Hong Kong has so far been unsuccessful.

The 70-member Hong Kong-Shenzhen Domestic Helpers Preparatory Committee has set up centres to train mainland workers to Hong Kong standards, but admits it has a struggle on its hands.

"This is going to be a complicated and long-term process," Vincent Lau, vice-chairman of the General Chamber of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, one of the bigger companies in the committee, was quoted as saying last year. "It takes a lot of work and political will to revise the regulations."

The government's top think tank, the Central Policy Unit, proposed a series of safeguards under which mainland helpers could be allowed to work in the city in a report in 2009.

These included lowering the age limit to 45 and allowing them to work for no more than six years so they would not qualify for permanent residence.