Hong Kong domestic helpers arrested in crackdown on ‘live-out’ maids
Four foreign domestic helpers were arrested in dawn raids yesterday morning on suspicion of breaking immigration laws by not living in their employers’ homes.
Three minibuses with at least 20 immigration officers descended on Ma Wan village around 7am, accusing the helpers of breaching employment legislation and their contracts.
One Hong Kong resident, understood to be an employer of one of the helpers, was also held for obstructing officers. Immigration officers arrested his wife yesterday afternoon. Both were released on bail.
The employer told the South China Morning Post that the couple wanted to see fair working conditions for helpers.
“Some employers that have a live-in nanny make them work up to 18 hours a day and some I know don’t even get a day off,” the man, who preferred not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, said.
He said his helper worked 11 hours per day and had two days off a week.
An immigration spokesman confirmed that four foreign domestic helpers were detained on suspicion of making a false representation to an immigration officer.
The government requirement that domestic helpers live in their employers’ homes was tightened in 2003 in a bid to boost job opportunities for local domestic helpers. Only those helpers who have been employed continuously by the same employer since before 2003 are allowed to live out. Under the same laws, employers are also targeted for letting helpers out of their duty of care.
Local rights groups have actively campaigned in favour of letting helpers “live-out”. Activists say helpers should have freedom of choice because they are susceptible to physical and sexual abuse when forced to live with employers.
The government however, insists the laws prevent abuse of helpers working part-time outside of their employment.
According to Hong Kong law, employers hire a domestic helper using a standard employment contract – a legally binding document. Clause 3 states that the migrant worker must reside in the employer’s residence with a stated address. The visa application states that the helper and employer must comply with clause 3.
Classed as “false representation” to immigration officers, letting helpers live out is an offence liable to prosecution that is punishable by a maximum fine of HK$150,000 and imprisonment for 14 years. Employers can also be banned from hiring another helper.
Domestic helpers, if found guilty, are deported and blacklisted from working in Hong Kong.
A spokesman from the lobby group HK Helpers Campaign said the laws meant helpers who did not live with their employers faced the fear of police and immigration raids.
“The archaic live-in rule is an affront to dignity and robs domestic workers of personal space, privacy and rest time,” the spokesman said.
“It enables abuse and prevents them from taking part in civic life and socialising. No Hong Kong resident should live in fear of police raids simply for wishing to lead an independent life.”