Hong Kong's 300,000 domestic helpers will get a pay rise for the second year running, taking the minimum wage from HK$3,740 a month to HK$3,920 - an increase of 4.8 per cent, or HK$180.
Employers offering a food allowance instead of free meals will have to pay HK$100 more, or no less than HK$875 a month.
It is the eighth pay rise since 2001 and will apply to all contracts signed from today.
Cynthia Tellez, an activist of the Mission for Migrant Workers, welcomed the news but said it fell short of union demands for pay to go beyond HK$4,000.
She said pay now was in fact comparable to that of the late 1990s before wage cuts that followed the Asian financial crisis.
Joseph Law Kwan-din, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said the rise was too close to inflation, which affected both maids and employers.
"In fact, meals and accommodation are already provided free for helpers. They should not be hit by the same amount of inflation," he said, adding that the rise should have been 3 per cent.
Maids received a 4.5 per cent pay rise last year, from HK$3,580 to HK$3,740, after a freeze since 2009. In 2003, their minimum pay was cut by HK$400 to HK$3,270, when a HK$400 levy was imposed on employers.
The Indonesian Migrant Workers Union said fewer workers were expected to come next year, with recent policy changes in Jakarta deterring people from travelling abroad to work as helpers. The Philippine government has also urged its nationals not to work as helpers overseas.
Technic Employment Service Centre managing director Teresa Liu Tsui-lan said pay should be raised to HK$4,000 to attract. more helpers. She said it was harder to attract domestic helpers, as other cities offered competitive rates. The rate in Singapore, where living costs are lower, is S$480 a month (HK$3,036).