• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 1:46am
NewsHong Kong

Maids maligned in 'job-hop' claims, rights groups say

Foreign helpers often gain nothing from changing employers and are misled into ending their contracts, union claims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 3:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 5:01pm

Maids' rights groups have slammed the government's decision to reject 170 applications from domestic helpers for work visas on the basis of suspected job-hopping, calling the accusations lies.

Security chief Lai Tung-kwok last week said 1,372 foreign domestic workers who applied for work visas last year were suspected of job-hopping - changing employers frequently without proper reasons - to collect severance pay. Of those applications, 170 were rejected.

"We are workers, not criminals," some 30 representatives of maids' rights associations chanted yesterday as the groups protested outside the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai.

Foreign domestic workers were often ill-advised by their agency and would become the party to propose contract termination when it was the employer who wanted to fire the maid, said Indonesian Migrant Workers Union spokeswoman Sring Atin. Some helpers might then be wrongly accused of being job-hoppers. "The maids may not really understand the language, even if it was written in Bahasa Indonesia. That is the agencies' tactic, how they protect the employers," she said.

Sring also dismissed accusations that helpers profited from job-hopping. She said maids were not entitled to severance pay if they left before their first year was up, and the airfare costs - paid for by employers - often went to the agencies instead. Many workers received nothing after leaving the job, she said.

Few dared to speak up as most were required to pay their agency an average of HK$21,000 if their contract was terminated within the first seven months of employment, Sring said.

"This is the government's tactic to make migrant workers scared … to make sure that they just keep silent, whatever their employers are doing to them," she said, referring to the recent abuse case of Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.

A source familiar with maid employment firms' operations said exploitation of the workers, such as having the firms pocket the maids' severance pay and airfare home, was common among Indonesian agencies. Agencies in the Philippines were usually better regulated, the source said.

At the protest yesterday, the maids' rights associations urged the government to scrap the two-week rule, which allows foreign domestic helpers to remain in the city only for that period of time to find a new employer once their contract ends.

Allowing maids a month to seek new employment, plus the option to apply for an extension of stay, would be more appropriate and consistent with the government's treatment of expatriate workers, Sring said.

The groups also called for a change to the mandatory live-in rule, which requires maids to live with their employers.

In a paper submitted to the Legislative Council panel on manpower today, the government said it would keep both the two-week and live-in rules.

"The main purpose of the two-week rule is to allow foreign domestic workers sufficient time to prepare for their departure and not to facilitate them to find new employers," the paper stated.

As for the live-in rule, the government said the import of foreign labour was to "meet the acute shortfall of local live-in domestic workers", and that foreign domestic helpers were informed of this before they applied to work in the city.



For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

In an ideal world, all workers should be fully protected by employment legislation regardless of occupation or social class. That includes domestic helpers. In reality, however, domestic helpers are a very special class of employee in that 1) Their employers usually do not have large financial resources, and 2) They reside with their employer. 3) Most are are paid an identical salary across the board. This in turn means that they have a huge incentive to job-hop if they perceive the new job to be easier than the old one. In my opinion, it is wrong for the government to offer the full protection of HK's employment ordinance verbatim to helpers. Indeed, insisting on this can often force otherwise well-intentioned employers to break the law. For example, it is against the law to dismiss any pregnant employee according to the ordinance. But how is a typical working/middle class family going to care for a pregnant helper living in their house for 10 months? A better alternative would be to mandate some protection in the form of a cash compensation to the helper and then allow the contract to be terminated. In the end, we import maids to help Hong Kong people which means we need to draw the line between adequate treatment and ideal treatment. Ultimately, Hong Kong must provide adequate protection to helpers. But beyond that, it should be take it or leave it. Let's not forget that helpers need (and gain from) HK as much as HK needs them.
58% of helpers are verbally abused, 18% are physically abused and 6% are sexually abused. Preventing helpers from changing jobs traps helpers in abusive situations. This recent government initiative is going to contribute to the abuse of FDHs in Hong Kong. How can we still claim to be Asia's world city when we treat people like this?
"We are workers, not criminals," I wish that was true. Of the 6 maids I hired to work for my elderly mum, 5 have stolen stuff, ranging from money to meat and olive oil. The workload is not much and still they perform below expectations, simple things like cleaning the fridge or kitchen closet. They are all smiles when I come visit. And argue with my mum when I have left. Only one managed to work till contract end of 2 yrs. I wonder what their purpose is to come here, is it not working for sure.
ray1974: your sense of filial piety has prevented you from realising that your elderly mum is the only common element in all the cases you have mentioned. Think a little harder.
Because Hkfirst, like many Hong Kongers feels like he or she was created superior and has a right to exploit other human beings.
The common item in all these articles about Indonesian Helpers seems to be corruption within Indonesian agencies and Indonesian government.
These countries are used to taking advantage of their poor weather they stay in Indonesia or come to Hong Kong. Indonesia needs to clean up their act.
Indonesian helpers know they are defenceless to create changes in their Home countries. They want the Hong Kong government to push Indonesia to clean up their act. They believe Hong Kong has a bigger global influence than it really does. Indonesia does not care that Hong Kong government and it's people wish Indonesia becomes less corrupt.
Domestic helpers must stop this game of blaming Kong Kong and it's people for the mess and corruption of their homeland. It is just not fair to the great people of Hong Kong who just want a quiet life without all this drama.
Hong Kong is a free market economy. The basis of a free market economy is every idividual has the right to seek the best possible employment situation. Every worker in Hong Kong has the right to job-hop. Why then are domestic helpers denied the right that everyone else has? Why does this discrimination exist?
ray1974, the solution for you is simple. You/your mum are the employer. Don't hire a maid. Look after your mum yourself. And if your maid is really stealing things, report it to the police- we know that the HK police will take a maid to court on a charge of stealing items with the value of a few US$
Do_the_right_thing, just another troll. Stealing things is another matter altogether. If it is a widespread culturally accepted practice, hire from another country. Regarding this article, I have witnessed the job-hopping issue and do not doubt it is a problem. Kudos to the government for taking necessary measures. They have a right to reject anyone in protecting its citizens. As for those agencies involved, revoke their licenses if they represent a disproportionate number of 'job-hopper's'. As a DH, if you feel wronged, vote with your feet and do not come to HK to work.
hkfirst, why do you have the right to change your job but FDHs don't? Why do western expats in Hong Kong have the right to change their jobs whenever they want but FDHs don't?



SCMP.com Account