Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Pictures: First domestic workers from Myanmar arrive in Hong Kong amid concerns of abuse

19 domestic workers report for duty, keen to make money after theypay off a HK$16,000 bill and undeterred by reports of abuse

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 10:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:52pm

The first group of maids hired from Myanmar arrived in Hong Kong yesterday, pronouncing themselves happy and excited to be in the city but saddled with a HK$16,000 agency debt that will take half their salaries for the first year.

For many of the 19 domestic workers from the former closed state, it was the first time they had set foot outside their country.

"I wanted to come here because I need money for my family. I made US$150 (HK$1,150) a month at home in a hotel as a receptionist," Thida Soe, 38, said at the airport.

They arrived amid questions over their language skills and at a time when the treatment of maids is in the spotlight after several high-profile abuse cases.

Thida Soe and other new arrivals said they learnt of the Hong Kong job offers from newspaper advertisements and were immediately drawn by the high salary.

May Sabai Ou, 30, said she had worked in a factory in Malaysia for five years. While the pay was US$350 a month, much higher than the average pay in Myanmar, it was still well below the minimum HK$4,010 for maids in Hong Kong.

But this is tempered by the fact that the HK$16,000 fee charged by their agency, Gold Mine Manpower, is the highest in the region. The Philippine government does not allow agencies to charge workers, while the Indonesian government allows them to charge about HK$13,500 for expenses such as medical checks and training.

"No pressure," Thin Thin Moe, 31, said with a shrug of her shoulders when asked about this. "I am happy to be here."

Law Yiu-keung, managing director of Gold Mine's Hong Kong partner, Golden Mind Employment Agency, said the maids would pay the Myanmar company HK$2,000 a month. This meant the debt could be paid off within a year.

Asked if she had read about abuse of maids in Hong Kong, Thin Thin Moe nodded her head. But she said she was not worried because there were always good and bad people everywhere.

The three maids said they were excited about their new lives in Hong Kong, and believed they would not have trouble getting used to the cultural differences.

"One problem is the cooking. Chinese cooking uses a lot of sugar but we don't use much sugar in Myanmar," Thin Thin Moe said.

Before coming to Hong Kong the group went through three months of training, including lessons on cooking, childcare, English and Putonghua. Cantonese was not taught for the first group as a teacher could not be found, but will be taught in future.

But the Post needed the help of a translator at times in the interviews, conducted in English.

"The first group is not very good with languages," Law admitted. "You may have to repeat the sentences a few times. But it should be fine once they have spent time with the employers and get to know more about what they usually want."

Thin Thin Moe said they were taught to call the agency if they faced any abuse. But there was one important phone number that they did not know - the emergency 999 call.