New window-cleaning rules for domestic workers apply to all flats above ground floor, Hong Kong minister insists
Labour secretary Matthew Cheung clarifies that a helper can clean windows in flats on upper floors only if grilles are installed or where there is a balcony
All windows above ground level – except where there are balconies – must have grilles installed if employers are to ask their foreign domestic helpers to clean the exterior of the windows under new arrangements that will be finalised this week, the labour minister said on Sunday.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung made the clarification the day after he said the new arrangements would only apply to flats on “upper floors”, drawing confusion as to whether the new rules would also cover flats on the second or third floors.
“Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe working environment for foreign domestic workers,” Cheung said.
After a series of discussions with diplomats from different consulates, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh, Cheung said all sides had agreed that employers should be allowed to ask their workers to clean the exteriors of windows if the flat was on the ground floor or where there were balconies.
If the flats are above the ground floor, workers can only be asked to clean window exteriors under two conditions – that grilles are installed and that an adult is present to supervise the work.
Additional clauses will be added to employment contracts.
“We should be able to finalise the wording within this week because no one has problems with the direction and principles ... The consulates have no problems at all,” Cheung said.
The row over whether employers should ask their domestic workers to clean windows was ignited after several workers plunged to their deaths this year while carrying out cleaning work.
In August, a 35-year-old Filipino worker fell to her death in Tseung Kwan O while cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat.
Domestic workers’ groups said four helpers had plunged to their deaths this year.
In a sign of how seriously the Philippines treats the matter, the country’s labour and employment minister, Silvestre Bello, raised the issue with Cheung when they met in the city in September.
Asked how the safety of helpers already working in Hong Kong could be protected when they would not be asked to sign a new contract with the fresh clauses added, Cheung said it was a matter of educating both workers and employers.
The minister said the government was planning to broadcast promotional videos on television at prime time. Leaflets would also be distributed.
Both unions and employers are dissatisfied with the arrangement. The unions, including United Filipinos in Hong Kong, demanded a total ban because the safety of workers should be the number one priority of the Hong Kong and Philippine governments.
Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairwoman Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee said she feared that employers would have to bear criminal liability if their helpers fell to their death while they were under their supervision.