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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 7:57pm
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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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.
When it comes to domestic helpers paying HK$21,000 in agent fees before coming to Hong Kong. That does not occur in HK and has no reflation to HK employers.
These agent fees are illegal in the helpers home country. But their home country likes the process to continue as it lines politicians pockets.
Domestic helpers should start refusing to pay these fees.
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.
Allowing employers and helpers to determine weather they live in or live out will have 0 impact on maid abuse and have massive implications for the people of Hong Kong. remember those with the ability to pay for external accommodation will be wealthy people living in large homes who want the comfort of the house to themselves at night. (they are not abusers of domestic helpers).
Now lets say at minimum 24,000 employers with the means of having their helper live out of house chose this option (about 7% of employers).
If we think 4 people per 600 sq ft house then it would remove from the market 6,000 apartments that would normally be taken by young / low income. This is roughly 25 apartment buildings each with 30 stories.
This would cause rental rates at this level to increase substantially.
It could also lead to more maid abuse as instead of living safely in a wealthy employers nice house they will now be pressured to live with 3 others in cheap accommodation most likely requiring substantial transportation. imagine what will happen if the maids don't get along (they don't get to choose who they are paired with).
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.
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.
I don't think that the government are that worried about job hopping but more worried about domestic helpers holding their employers to ransom of more $$$ / more holidays or the threat of made up legal action if they do not get what they want. Many helpers are honest but not all. Many are corrupt and have learnt how to take advantage of employers.
There is also the worry of domestic helpers trying to get fired and then get HK$4,000 and then go to another family and use the same tricks.
Government is correctly working for both employers and domestic helpers. Government cannot just always go after the employers and allow corrupt domestic helpers to go unknown.
People should not just overly judge the government but should really look into why they are doing what they do. immigration officers are very good at their job.
Any apartment under 1000 sq ft or that does not have separate maid quarters should be barred from hiring maids.



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