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  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 6:02am
Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong’s maid agencies face tough new rules after Erwiana case

Labour chief promises action to show 'bad apples we mean business' following allegations of abuse that made headlines around the world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 2:57am

Hong Kong will overhaul its regulatory system for foreign domestic helpers and revise punishments for unscrupulous employment agencies that are currently set "too low", the labour and welfare secretary told the South China Morning Post on Thursday.

The Labour Department would step up surveillance of agencies and hire "retired police officers to join the ranks of inspectors to show the bad apples we mean business", added Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

Before helpers come, they are often already indebted because of the hefty fees. We have been expressing our concern to the [Indonesian] government
Labour and welfare secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung

His remarks came after an announcement stating the bureau would work with the Department of Justice on a comprehensive reform of the rules governing foreign domestic helpers and the employment agencies that recruit and supervise them.

But the government also made clear it would not budge on its rule insisting domestic helpers live with employers - a rule that has been at the centre of recent protests by helpers.

Cheung told a meeting of the Legislative Council's manpower panel yesterday: "We need to strike a balance between the [current] situation ... and having too many regulations."

Community groups had been invited to share their views at the meeting following the alleged abuse of Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih - allegations which made headlines around the world and, as several politicians remarked at the meeting, "put Hong Kong to shame".

Cheung got an angry response from migrant advocates at the meeting when he emphasised the role the Indonesian government played in allowing the country's employment agencies to charge high training fees.

"Before helpers come, they are often already indebted because of the hefty fees," he said. "We have been expressing our concern to the [Indonesian] government, and I even suggested to a high-ranking official that [it] should provide helpers with low-interest loans [instead] of having the profit go to agencies," Cheung added.

Holly Allan, manager of Helpers for Domestic Helpers, said Cheung had downplayed the responsibility of the Hong Kong government to monitor the city's own agencies, which she said frequently colluded with moneylenders to overcharge helpers on fees payable to them.

Robert Godden, Asia-Pacific campaign co-ordinator for Amnesty International, said that Hong Kong had been "strangely hesitant" to apply more effective methods to protect domestic helpers. "The government must urgently establish a robust monitoring system that allows for proactive investigation of placement agencies suspected of abuses.

"Those found to be involved in labour exploitation must face adequate punishment that reflects the serious nature of the crime," he told the meeting.

Several employers' associations, including the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, also supported stronger penalties for abusive agencies, but community groups clashed in opinions over whether the "live-in rule" should be abolished. "Accidental pregnancies are already a problem. If helpers are allowed to live away from employers, there will be more pregnancies ... and others will take illegal part-time jobs," said Liberal Party youth committee member Harris Yeung.

In response to fears that abolishing the two-week rule, whereby helpers must leave Hong Kong within two weeks of termination of their contracts, would encourage "job-hopping", Parichat Jaroennon, of the Thai Migrant Workers Union, said: "We are here in Hong Kong to make money for our families, not to play [the system]. If we change jobs, there are no advantages for us because we have to pay the agencies more fees."

In a paper submitted to the panel yesterday, 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 beforehand.

Law Wan-tung, 44, the woman who employed Erwiana, has been charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault, and four counts of criminal intimidation.


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This article is now closed to comments

Another illegal practice at least one Hong Kong agency is using is to charge prospective helpers a HK$7000 agency fee while they are still in the Philippines. The agency uses intermediaries to find find women who want jobs as helpers. The helper wires the agency half the money when the agency puts the helper on its books and the other half when the agency finds a placement for the helper. The helper then comes to Hong Kong and takes up a position as a helper. The Hong Kong agency pockets HK$7000 without any paper trail.
The agencies in Hong Kong are often responsible for burdening helpers with debt by charging them fees which they are not allowed by law to do. Agencies will take a newly arrived helper to a loan shark, get the helper to take out a loan which goes not to the helper but to the agency. The helpers are not aware this is prohibited by law and are also frightened of losing their jobs.
The best option is to ensure that these maids don't have loan when they come here. And this could only be avoided when the " mandatory rule" of endorsement of DH contracts by the respective consulates are abolished. This will make them free person to make contract with their free wish. And any event if they need their consulate assistance, consulates are always free to help them.
Hong Kong government is looking on agencies and many other aspects, but they are not focusing on this main issue. Maids need homeland agencies to have their contracts endorsed by consulates. So they pay for it.
I wonder if there is any intelligent official to look on this aspect so that problem can be solved in a fast way.
Both Dept. of Immigration and HK Police know that many helpers do not live in with their employers. An example is the thriving community in Nim Shi Wan near Discovery Bay. Either change thelaw to make this legal, or start to enforce the law. But having a double standard is not a good thing.
57% of helpers are verbally abused, 18% are physically abused and 6% are sexually abused. How will any of what is being proposed stop these tragedies occurring?
No mention in the media about the new case of a maid that got a finger cut off by her employer last Sunday!!!! Google translate this page (in Indonesian) ****bmi-hk.blogspot.hk/2014/02/jariku-dipotong-majikanku.html?m=1
Report to the police! That is how to get justice for victims.
you will be pleased to know a suspect has been charged. Unfortunately that is not going to guarantee this young lady gets the full use of her finger back!
mercedes2233, a previous helper of the employer of Erwiana, the maid who was tortured by her employer for months, went to the Police about that same employer. The Police failed to lay charges against the woman. Is it any wonder that helpers don't have any confidence in going to the Police.
I'm sure they did as they said she was treated in a public hospital


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