Some factors to keep in mind when hiring a helper
Man Siu-chun, team leader of the Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project at Caritas, says employers should consider whether they are ready for the presence of a non-family member at home.
'Nowadays helpers are no longer the prerogative of wealthy families. Even families with modest incomes [and homes] hire them. Many maids must sleep in the living room. Is the employer ready for such intrusions into their privacy?'
Poor relationships are often due to a failure to take cultural differences into account, Man says. For example, helpers from tropical countries may be used to taking two baths daily, but employers may regard this as wasting water. Some are ignorant of Islamic edicts and take offence when their Muslim maids refuse to eat pork.
Employers should keep demands within reason. Helpers taking care of the elderly are often kept up at night tending to their needs, yet some employers won't let them nap during the day. 'It's torture,' says Leung Hing-ki of Hong Kong TKI Association, a support group.
Others pay maids extra in return for working on holidays, but this is against the law.
Joseph Law, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, says expectations should be outlined from the start. After their first meeting, he usually asks the prospective maid to demonstrate her work. 'I tell her how I like shirts ironed or what my hygiene standards are. A clear explanation at the start can reduce disputes.'
Andreas Rosboch, author of Hiring & Managing Domestic Help, says families should not look to agencies for guidance. 'Agents don't do much vetting. In interviews, an employer should see how the helper interacts with the children.'
Helpers don't have to become part of the family, but they should be treated with respect and praised when they do well.
'Some bosses treat their helpers as lowly servants and get paranoid easily,' Man says. 'They are on guard, assuming that the helper will steal from them.'
Rosboch advises: 'Employers should know that being best friends with helpers won't work; familiarity can breed contempt. The important thing is to maintain the employer-employee relationship. But this relationship can still be relaxed and friendly.'