Hong Kong continues to stand firm against importing domestic helpers from the mainland, despite plans by Macau to bring them in next year.
Macau's main trade union body and biggest women's group have backed moves by the government to admit domestic helpers from Fujian province and Guangdong, while calling for strict regulation.
But Hong Kong's Security Bureau said yesterday the city had no plans to follow suit.
Macau's Secretary for Economy and Finance, Francis Tam Pak-yuen, told legislators on Thursday that the administration would accelerate discussion with mainland counterparts on the details of the scheme, with the aim of bringing in the first helpers early next year.
While restricted to the two mainland provinces initially, the scheme might be extended to other regions later.
The South China Morning Post understands that Hong Kong's Central Policy Unit completed a study on the feasibility of using mainland domestic labour two years ago, but did not publish it because of public opposition to the proposal.
However, Leong Sun-iok, vice-director of the Macau Federation of Trade Unions, said the Macau public had always wanted to hire domestic helpers from the mainland. He urged strict supervision as some employers might import people as domestic helpers, but use them for other duties.
"Employers may [use the scheme to] import illegal workers through legal ways," he said.
In September, Macau had about 17,500 foreign domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, according to the Macau Human Resources Office.
Ao Ieong Ut-seng, executive director of the Women's General Association of Macau, said the number of double-income families was increasing and the population was ageing. She said: "This requires a lot of manpower in domestic care. Most helpers in Macau come from Southeast Asia, and they are not so capable of taking care of seniors and infants [because of language and cultural differences]."
But she also insisted the policy had to be well-regulated.
Macau pan-democratic law-maker Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong, who also backed the move, said he would be most worried about exploitation of domestic helpers due to the lack of support for their rights from Beijing.
Khuc Thi Hang, 35, a Vietnamese domestic helper who has worked in Macau for five years, said she was not worried.
"Some prefer foreign domestic helpers because we are cheaper," said Khuc, who earns 2,500 patacas a month - the minimum for a domestic helper.
Finance secretary Tam has said he believes mainland helpers should receive at least 3,000 patacas.