Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
LABOUR

Would-be helpers from Bangladesh scared off by abuse fears

Bangladeshi consul confirms just 270 maids from his country have taken up jobs in city, while a fifth of those have already gone home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2014, 5:54am
 

Just a fraction of the 5,000 Bangladeshi maids who had been expected to take jobs in Hong Kong under a deal struck last year have arrived - with many put off by reports of mistreatment and abuse.

One in five of the 270 Bangladeshis who had taken jobs in the city since May were back home already, the country's top diplomat in Hong Kong revealed.

And such is the concern about abuse that Dhaka last year sent inspectors to make checks.

The development again puts the spotlight on working conditions for Hong Kong maids in the wake of a recent abuse case.

It also casts doubt on the ability of Bangladesh to fill the hole left by a shortage of Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers, who account for 98 per cent of Hong Kong's maids.

Last week an employer was arrested accused of hitting and pulling the hair of her Bangladeshi helper. Also last week, the former employer of Indonesian Erwiana Sulistyaningsih appeared in court charged with abusing her and two other maids.

When the two governments agreed in April to allow Bangladeshi helpers in Hong Kong, it was hailed as a way to help the impoverished South Asian country and fulfil the needs of Hong Kong families.

Employment agencies expected 5,000 Bangladeshis to arrive in the first year. But Bangladeshi Consul General Mohammad Sarwar Mahmood said some 20 per cent of recruits had returned home.

"Some have left voluntarily or - on a case-by-case basis - their contract has been terminated," he said. But, he added, he was generally "happy" with the treatment of Bangladeshi maids.

"People are very much conscious [of the abuse risk] … and they are very much aware, which means not all people are interested [in being a maid]," the consul said. "We are also trying to go slow ... to ensure our helpers' rights are duly protected, and we want to monitor their welfare."

A delegation from Bangladesh's manpower ministry found mistreatment of its citizens in Hong Kong, according to the Dhaka Tribune. It cited the case of a maid left unable to work after being scalded with hot water by her employer - a case now under police investigation.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, the biggest agency dealing with Bangladeshi maids, said the helpers found work very hard because of "too much pressure" from employers.

"They have already proved to be a failure because families in Hong Kong have difficulties in getting used to Bangladeshi people for many reasons," said Joseph Law, chairman of the Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association. He cited culture and education as factors.

Cheung Kit-man, chairman of the Employment Agencies Association, expects employees from Myanmar to fill the gap.

"Employers prefer Myanmar maids because 80 per cent of the population is Buddhist and they can speak a little bit of English, compared with Bangladesh, where most are Muslim," he said.

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