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  • Oct 2, 2014
  • Updated: 3:52am
NewsHong Kong

Scrap domestic helper policies that lead to abuse, say groups

Advocates point to issues such as the live-in rule that they say hinder justice on the eve of a ruling in case involving Indonesian helper

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 11:41am

Domestic helper-support groups are urging the government to scrap policies they say are contributing to the abuse of foreign helpers, with the Mission for Migrant Workers saying 1,000 helpers have sought help in the past six months.

The groups issued the call yesterday ahead of a District Court decision today in the case of alleged abuse of Indonesian domestic helper Kartika Puspitasari, 30.

In one instance, her employers allegedly forced her to put on a diaper and tied her to a chair while they went on holiday.

The migrant mission's director, Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, said the requirement that maids must live with their employer meant they had nowhere to run when they were abused. "It also means the domestic helpers are on call 24 hours a day," she said.

The government should let the employer and the maids decide whether they should live together.

Abdon-Tellez also urged the government to scrap a policy that required helpers to leave Hong Kong two weeks after their contracts are terminated. The helpers should be given enough time to look for another job.

"It often forces the helpers to endure abuses so they can hold on to their jobs," she said, adding that they needed the jobs to support their families back home.

The Immigration Department said last month that when assessing a maid's employment visa application it would closely scrutinise details such as why a contract was being terminated in order to deter helpers from "job-hopping".

A case worker at the Bethune House shelter in Jordan, Esther Bangcawayan, said this would only make the maids more unwilling to report abuse to the police because once their contracts were terminated they may not be able to get a new visa.

Abdon-Tellez said about 1,000 maids had sought help from the mission in the past six months. Complaints included being forced to sleep in the toilet, not being allowed to shower for months, having canned food thrown at them and sexual assault.

"Some needed to receive psychological treatment," she said.

Shedding more light on the Immigration Department's new measure, Phoebe Lam Bik-che, from the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos and Other Asian Migrants, said some helpers who failed to complete their first contract would be blacklisted. That meant no agency would be able to find them a new job.

Indonesian maid Ganika Diristiani, chairwoman of the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, said every Indonesian helper who came to work in the city had to pay HK$21,000 in agent fees. The money would normally be deducted from their first seven months of salary.

If a helper failed to make the payment, her family back home had to bear the consequences.

She said this might explain why so many helpers tolerated unfair treatment.

The Immigration Department said that in the past 11 weeks it had refused 55 visa applications suspected to involve abuse of the arrangements for premature contract termination.



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This article is now closed to comments

Any apartment under 1000 sq ft or that does not have separate maid quarters should be barred from hiring maids.
Caractacus, you are a bit to rushed to jump to judgement. I assume you have a very biased view of domestic helpers. What i mention below is very well documented and you can see it any day at the courts near Jordan.
You will see the gangs of domestic helpers that are paid to harass employers in order for them to settle more quickly. Don't just believe what you see in your mind but look further.
Most domestic helpers come from countries that a very corrupt (Philippines and Indonesia) and I believe this is not disputed. It cannot also be disputed that those raised in such an environment will see it as business as usual.
This is why the immigration department rightly follows up.
I can say, in HK the job hopping is very common. In our company there is a come and go of employees all the time. Often with payment in lieu involve. That is the regulation and as an employer you can do nothing about it and as an employee, most HKnese are, you use it to the full.
Domestic helpers should be more protected I agree as abuse and exploitation is very common in HK. Not all employer do abuse their maids, but many do, a fact, and this should be stopped.
To allow maids live in dormitories is to have them pay for their own rent. I would support this. Furthermore, there must be government offices where maids can report their employers if they abuse them or exploit them. Those employers should be punished severally and not allowed to hire any DH anymore.
For DHs, who do Job hopping, the Immigration should record the reason why their employment was terminated and note the reasons and explainations of both employer and DH.
After a few times, the immigration officer would have enough information to evaluate the visa application of the DH. If the DH was dismissed for the same reason many times, then something must be wrong with the DH. But if the DH has a clear record and many positive reviews from many employments and just one negative review from one employer, then there should be no reason to reject her application.
The same for the employer. If one has fired too many times a DHs and received too many bad reviews, this employer should be blacklisted.
What incredibly ignorant and racist attitudes by IRDHK and bmr, but sadly, all too common. Exactly the same things could be said about any employees, but why are their remarks only applied to foreign domestic helpers?
Abuse is about POWER. Racism is taught by parents and peers. A racist employer (easy enough to find in this town by just swinging a stick) takes out his / her spiteful racism on a helpless target who cannot fight back or defend herself, especially if the helper has nowhere else to go. Non - English speakers are at a further disadvantage unless they speak Cantonese.
Those helpers who live out usually live in sub divided units because that's all they can afford, but that shouldn't trouble Paul Chan and his wife.
Why does a modern city such as Hong Kong even have live-in domestic helpers, who are no better than second class inhabitants at best and serfs of feudal times at worst? At its core, it is simply the exploitation of cheap, unskilled labor. Many developed nations do not depend on domestic helpers, yet their economy, as measured by GDP per capita, is much stronger than Hong Kong.

It seems highly suspect when a modern society such as Hong Kong condones such an ethically questionable arrangement. That it does is a sign of a pervasive culture of unrestricted exploitation. Domestic helpers, wage inequality, and the obscene gap between the rich and the poor are all end products of this exploitative environment.
Many developed nations do have a problem of child care and nursery when both parents are working. Declining birthrates and career obstacles for mostly women are as a result. In HK most of the time both parents have to work for the income to provide a decent lifestyle for the family.
The existence of domestic helper abuse and exploitation is because of the lack of employer controll and checking mostly done by agents. Those agents just think about their income and don't care about the wellbeing of the helper.
And I don't think the domestic helper are getting poor paid as they earn more as they would have at home.
Many developed nations, such as those in Western Europe have developed to their level today without importing domestic helpers. So it is quite feasible for economic growth to occur without labor importation and substitution. As well, it is typically not necessary for both parents to work to provide a decent lifestyle for the family.

Declining birth rates are probably a collective choice by the people of any locale. It's also not a bad thing, given the level of population on this planet as it is.

As far as having a career and being a mother, there will be tradeoffs unless organizations are accommodating. Depending on the country, this ranges from very to not at all. Personally, I think that having children is a great responsibility and it follows that a mother should be greatly involved in the upbringing of their children, but that's just my opinion.
I would consider it exploitation if we look at it from the point of view of this question: "What level of wages would a reasonable Hong Kong person demand for this work?". Just because domestic helpers come a country where the income is much lower does not mean we should take advantage of this and pay them less.
I don't know what your monthly income is but taking the average of HK families earnings in relation to the costs of living in this city your assumption is far from the reality.
One of the most strucking reason for not having a child is the financially burden a couple would have.
Talking about the level of population, just look further and more closer and you will realise that in the main developed countries the population declines but in 3rd world and poorer countries increases. And then in those countries out of 10 born children of a family only 1-2 will make it to aduldhood. Those children will have the duty to provide for their parents and grandparents. Being a mother and having a career...don't be so naiv. Even in such a developed country like the USA or countries in Europe its a big problem and cause of much discussion in politics. They are still struggling for solutions and being realistic, none in sight.
The about the wage for DHs. Currently it is a win-win situation. The question should be, what wage for a helper a HK family with their income could afford to hire one? If they can not afford one then, one parent have to stay at home to look after the kids if no grandparents are available. Then the workforce from the Philipines, Indonesia etc. lose their jobs in HK, they need to look for even worse and low paid jobs at home or being unemployed. They wouldn't come to HK if they feel being unfair treated concerning wage payment comparing what they would face at home.
Agree with IRDHK. Implications for housing are horrendous. Would it not be more advisable to set up a team responsible for the social welfare of domestic helpers and with the power to make home visits and interview maids separately from the employer to see that all is well.
This totally does not work, the housing authority conducts inspections all the time on public flats to ensure things like overcrowding, illegal structures, modifications do not take place. People find all kinds of ways to hide these things, I can't imagine inspecting for a well organised working environment would do any better. Could you imagine it even in your own work place? 300,000 is a non-trivial number of people.




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