• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 6:24pm
Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong
NewsHong Kong

Greater protection for foreign domestic helpers urged as first Myanmese workers arrive

Plea for new self-regulatory body issued after only four city-based recruitment agencies lose licences despite record number of complaints

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 11:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 7:31am


  • Yes: 79%
  • No: 21%
25 Feb 2014
  • Yes
  • No
Total number of votes recorded: 380

Only four recruitment agencies for domestic helpers lost their licences last year despite a record total of complaints against them.

The findings by the South China Morning Post prompted calls for a self-regulating industry body to be set up to help protect foreign domestic workers.

The facts emerged as the first group of 19 Myanmese helpers arrived in Hong Kong yesterday. Concern groups said the government should use the opportunity to clean up the industry.

I am shocked … the Labour Department [must] seriously beef up its efforts

Elizabeth Tang Yin-ngor, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation, said of the figures: "I am shocked. But I have always been dissatisfied with the supervision of the Labour Department. It needs to seriously beef up its efforts."

The department said there were 1,253 licensed employment agencies for foreign helpers at the end of last year. Four licences were not renewed, with the reasons given including the overcharging of workers and illegal practices. One agency's licence was revoked in 2010, three in 2011 and two in 2012.

But the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body said that for Filipino domestic helpers alone, a record 8,000 complaints of overcharging were filed to their consulate in Hong Kong last year.

Local laws allow agencies to charge helpers 10 per cent of their first month's salary, or HK$401, but many helpers reported being charged as much as HK$20,000.

It is unclear how many of these cases were referred to the department. And there are no similar figures available for Indonesian helpers. But with Indonesian and Filipino helpers each making up about half of the city's 320,000 domestic workers, the number of complaints by Indonesian helpers is also likely to be in the thousands.

Tang said the department should have investigated these cases and dished out punishment, even if the helpers did not complain directly. "Exploitation is so rampant, there is no way the department cannot manage to find out about it," she said.

Tang said the department should arrange briefings for workers new to the city, telling them about labour rules and to whom they can go for help.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, vice-chairwoman of the General Chamber of Manpower Agencies, said a self-regulatory body for the industry, similar to the Travel Industry Council, should be set up. "If you're not a member of the council, then you don't get a licence," she said.

Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan, who has talked to officials from Myanmar's labour ministry about the possibility of bringing 10,000 Myanmese helpers a year to Hong Kong, said any agencies found guilty of malpractice should get "points" deducted.

Once the self-regulatory body had deducted all their points, the licence should be revoked.

A spokesman for the Labour Department said: "We do not allow abuse in any form." He said the Myanmese helpers would enjoy the same legal protection and rights as local employees.



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This article is now closed to comments

If you want to check the veracity of the story, then I suggest you make a similar call to the Labour Department yourself, and you will find this is the way they respond.
"...Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was allegedly abused at the hands of her employer, ..." Shouldn't this read - "Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was abused allegedly at the hands of her employer"? The abuse itself is challenged by this phrasing indicating that perhaps the abuse hadn't happened at all when the more accurate way to put this is to indicate that the charges against the person accused (alleged perpetrator) have not been finally determined in a court of law.
Also, why are they expending "efforts to find new sources of foreign domestic help"? Has Hong Kong depleted the workforce in the two more common sources, the Philippines and Indonesia? Is Hong Kong no longer a popular destination for would-be domestic workers? Have the current group become too assertive for employers, the agencies or the government's liking? Certainly no reason for this is included in the article.
A department spokesman says 'any abuse that is supported by sufficient evidence will be prosecuted'. This simply NOT true.
The department willingly turns a blind eye to reports of abuse. I personally know of one case where a helper reported being forced to sleep in a store room that contained toxic substances. When contacted, the response of the Labour Department was to tell the helper to contact the Immigration Department because such issues were not Labour Department issues. This complaint went beyond the initial Department employee who answered the phone to a supervisor so this- incredible as it is- clearly represents department policy.
How can the working conditions of domestic helpers be protected when the Labour Department is washing its hands of this matter.
Very sad state of things for foreign maids, and the gentle nature of Burmese ladies will put this new batch even more at the mercy of unscrupulous employers/agencies. the reason for bringing these is probably simply that once the government of Myanmar has agreed to let its people work outside, they are probably the cheapest workforce around. and these being new will not even be able to rely on their own support/comfort as they will at first be scattered and isolated.
How shameful. How utterly shameful that this topic is so relevant in Hong Kong. It's not just the government that has a lot to answer for....it is the attitude of Hong Kongers that treat their helpers like slaves that condemns this city. Disgusting.
I thought they looked for a new area because Indonesia has decided to scale back allowing its people to be domestic helpers period (there are enough well paying jobs in Indonesia and they need the people to stay home). Thus HK is solely looking to a new talent pool to be FDHs to fill the area left by Indonesia.
A word of advice when dealing with Government Departments. Always follow up in writing. As it stands this story can only be viewed as hearsay. I'm not saying it's not true, but how can anyone verify that it is?


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