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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

New window cleaning rule could lead Hong Kong foreign domestic helpers to quit, employers group claims

Refusal to do the exterior work above ground level could encourage contract termination, convenor argues, but others counter maids are still vulnerable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 2:13pm

Foreign domestic helpers might use a new clause exempting them from cleaning the outside of windows if certain conditions are not met as an excuse to leave their job, an employers support group claims.

Support Group for Hong Kong Employers with Foreign Domestic Helpers convenor Joan Tsui Hiu-tung made the remark during a radio programme Tuesday after the Labour Department announced Monday that a new clause would be added to contracts of foreign domestic helpers from January 1 next year. The clause stipulates employers cannot make helpers clean the outside of any window not on ground level or next to a balcony or corridor, unless the window is fitted with a secured grille and no part of their body except their arms extend beyond the ledge. There are about 300,000 working maids in Hong Kong.

New window-cleaning rules for domestic workers apply to all flats above ground floor, Hong Kong minister insists

Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka-shun explained that if the employers violated the clause, employees could approach the Labour Department or Labour Tribunal to request a termination of their contract and could receive pay for one month’s notice and, if applicable, long service payment.

Tsui said her group’s primary concern was that helpers could claim they were forced to clean the exterior of such windows – despite not being asked to do so – to get out of a job.

Many of these employers are working parents with nobody to help [with domestic chores]
Joan Tsui Hiu-tung, employers support group

She added that helpers could tell the department or tribunal their employers violated the clause and, with the court taking days to look into the matter, some employers could opt to simply give them compensation.

But Leo Tang Kin-wah, organising secretary for the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union, rejected Tsui’s claims.

“[The helpers would not do so] as they have to find another job and spend over HK$10,000 [to change jobs] as they would have to give the first few months of their pay to agencies,” he said.

Tang added that the difficulties of going to the department or tribunal served as disincentives and that during such a dispute the employee could not work, meaning no income would be generated.

He also said if there were contrasting arguments from both parties, then the court would investigate. He therefore saw “no problem” with the process.

Leung Hing-ki of Hong Kong TKI Association, a domestic helpers support group, added that cases of using excuses to get out of a job had fallen sharply in recent years with the Hong Kong government’s implementation of procedures such as questioning maids if they terminated their contract twice.

[Helpers are] worried about not having a job and the large sums of debt they have to pay their agencies
Leo Tang Kin-wah, domestic workers union

Instead, Tang was worried the clause did not afford sufficient protection for helpers.

“It not easy [for the helpers] to say no” to their employers, he said. “They’re worried about not having a job and the large sums of debt they have to pay their agencies.”

He believed employers had less to lose under the new clause. He said it imposed no criminal liability and that their only loss would be one month’s pay.

Tang said legislation was needed to fix the problem as helpers were not protected to the same degree as most employees in other local sectors that enjoy occupational safety and health law protections.

But Tsui countered that employers would not sack their helpers for not cleaning window exteriors.

“You have to wait three months for a new helper,” she said. “Many of these employers are working parents with nobody to help [with domestic chores]. Some might even need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to change maids.”