Hong Kong’s foreign domestic helpers to be protected by new rule on window cleaning in early 2017
Campaigners complain of lack of punishment for breaking contractual clause
All foreign domestic helpers hired or renewing their contracts from January 1 next year will be protected by new rules on window cleaning aimed at avoiding deadly accidents in high-rise buildings.
Under a new clause in their contracts, employers will not be able to 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.
But a domestic helper group complained that some 300,000 working maids were not covered by the Labour Department’s new rules, and that employers violating the clause would not be held criminally liable.
The Philippine consulate last month announced a new clause for all Filipino domestic helpers’ contracts stating that cleaning the outside of windows was no longer part of their duties.
The consulate later suspended the plan for 30 days after the Hong Kong government asked for more time to work out the details and get everyone on board.
Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka-shun urged existing employers not bound by the contractual clause to follow the new requirements and ensure the safety of their helpers.
He said while employers would not be held criminally liable for violating the rules, they might be asked to chip in if insurance companies had to compensate victims of window cleaning accidents.
Employees could approach the Labour Department or submit a claim to the Labour Tribunal if they were unfairly dismissed over the new clause, he added.
Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, which champions the rights of domestic helpers, said he was concerned that existing contracts had been left out.
“The majority of the helpers remain unprotected,” he said, also pointing out that punitive provisions were missing from the new clause. “If an employer violates the clause, what is the level of accountability?”
Villanueva suggested that a better solution was to amend the labour law, as proposed by domestic helper groups.
Chan explained it would take at most two years from January 1, 2017 for the clause to be included in all domestic helpers’ contracts, as employers wanting to keep employing their current maids would have to renew their contracts.
The Immigration Department would still process contracts signed on or before December 31 this year using older forms without the clause, Chan said, provided the applications reached the department on or before January 27 next year.
The department will step up publicity to ensure awareness among employers and maids.