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City Weekend

Dubious duties: Helpers ‘can still be asked to carry out home improvements or even give body massages’

Campaigners say duties should be specified in contracts to ensure workers don’t have to carry out additional or risky tasks, or work longer hours than required

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2016, 12:00pm

Hong Kong’s domestic helpers could still be asked to carry out home improvements or even give body massages if they are exploited by their employers, a campaign group has said.

Holly Allan, manager of charity Helpers for Domestic Helpers, said a new clause, due to be added to domestic helper contracts, which prohibits external window cleaning only scratched the surface in terms of protecting such workers’ rights.

She said a list of domestic duties should be included in all foreign domestic helper contracts to ensure they were not unfairly asked to carry out additional, and sometimes risky, duties, or work 24-hour days.

“Domestic duties must be clearly defined and clearer guidelines must be introduced,” she said.

“For example, clearing or cleaning a large area outside the home of the employer, carrying construction materials, painting walls, general repair work or even giving a body massage [are clearly] not domestic duties but it is not rare for domestic workers to be required to perform these tasks which should be considered exploitation.”

The South China Morning Post last month launched a campaign urging employers to treat their domestic helpers as respected employees, after it was revealed that Hong Kong had one of the highest proportion of modern day slaves in Asia.

The authors of the Global Slavery Index 2016 said the city’s domestic helpers, most of whom come from the Philippines and Indonesia, were the primary group being enslaved, as they faced high agency fees, 17-hour work days as well as physical and verbal abuse. They put the total number of people being enslaved in Hong Kong at 29,500, but campaigners estimated the figure could be much higher, with as many as 55,000 of the city’s 330,000 domestic helpers subjected to slavery-type conditions.

Announcing the window-cleaning ban this week, a spokesman for the Labour Department insisted the government was committed to ensuring the safety of domestic helpers. “The Labour Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Council will further step up publicity and education efforts to enhance the awareness of employers and foreign domestic helpers of household and occupational safety.”

Other risky duties a domestic helper may be forced to perform include:

being made to lift elderly residents

being forced to work in an employer’s restaurant or factory without proper training

being asked to care for a pet which gets out of control

being made to carry out daily chores on little or no sleep

being made to operate electrical machinery without guidance

being made to work at the home of the employer’s friend with no guidance