Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Language issues for incoming Cambodian domestic helpers spark concern in Hong Kong

Employment agencies and unions fear workers will end up being sent home, as was the case with counterparts from Myanmar in 2014

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 10:57am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 10:12pm

Cambodian domestic helpers may face language problems in Hong Kong and be sent home early like the Myanmar workers before them, employment agencies and unions fear.

They raised these concerns after the government announced on Monday about 1,000 domestic helpers from Cambodia would arrive this autumn as part of the city’s latest efforts to meet its increasing demand for workers.

The newcomers will receive three months of basic language, cooking and health care training in Cambodia before arriving in Hong Kong.

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Speaking on an RTHK radio programme on Tuesday morning, Employers of Domestic Helper Association chairwoman Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee welcomed the new batch of helpers as they could ease the labour shortage but questioned whether a foreigner could successfully learn a language in just three months.

“Many helpers claim they know Cantonese and English, but they actually do not. It is a serious problem if the employer cannot communicate with the helper. I wonder how three months of training can help,” Yung said.

“It is unfair for the employer to have to spend time brushing up the helper’s Cantonese ... I do not want to see the experience of bringing Myanmar helpers to Hong Kong repeated.”

Domestic workers from Myanmar started arriving in Hong Kong in early 2014, with plans to bring in 2,000 of them in the first year.

But six months after their arrival, about one in five of the first 90 helpers had already gone home as they could not get used to life here.

The Myanmar government later banned its women from working as maids in Singapore or Hong Kong because of concerns over abuse and exploitation.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, echoed Yung’s concerns, saying a bad experience could hurt locals’ confidence in Cambodian domestic workers.

“It all depends on the training. Hong Kong could lose confidence in Cambodian helpers if they do not perform well. It will be a huge problem,” Liu said.

Simon Liu Wing-hing, chairman of the Cambodia Human Resource Development Association, which will act as the official representative of the Cambodian government to ensure the helpers are protected in Hong Kong, said a centre would be set up in both Cambodia and Hong Kong to provide online support around the clock.

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“The support centre can solve problems or answer questions from employers promptly,” he said.

The first group of 1,000 Cambodian workers is expected to join the city’s 330,000-strong domestic helper workforce this September or October. It will be a test case to decide whether the scheme is workable or if changes should be made.

Their pending arrival has been enabled by the Hong Kong ­government’s relaxation of visa restrictions for Cambodian ­workers, investors and students on March 1 as part of Beijing’s ­global trade development strategy along the old Silk Route, known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”.