Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Domestic helpers forced to pay agencies '20 times legal rate'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 10:59am

Nearly half of foreign domestic helpers have paid their job agencies more than Hong Kong laws allow, in some cases overpaying by more than 20 times the standard rate, a study shows.

And more than a fifth of employers find their workers do not meet promised levels of experience and language skills.

The findings, released yesterday by the Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs, indicate how recruitment agencies are exploiting both sides of the market.

Local laws allow agencies to charge helpers 10 per cent of their first month's wages, amounting to HK$401.

But 60 per cent of workers paid more, the study found, with about 15 per cent forking out more than HK$9,000 each.

"Some agencies know this is illegal, and they tell the workers to borrow from lenders," said the commission's secretary general, Teresa Mak Yau Mei-siu. "The agencies actually collude with the lenders and get a slice of the takings."

The commission polled 302 workers and 252 employers from October to February.

Almost 20 per cent of those workers said they had borrowed money from lenders.

Many said they did not report the agencies' excessive demands to the Labour Department for fear of losing their jobs.

The picture was almost as gloomy for employers.

More than a fifth of those polled said they found out only upon the helpers' arrival that the agencies had lied about their language abilities, work experience and education.

Some agencies even taught them to take away the workers' personal items, such as passports and bank cards, so they could not run away, according to 7.7 per cent of the employers.