The association representing domestic helper agencies in the Philippines has lifted a moratorium on sending workers to Hong Kong from today.
The Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (Sharp) last night revealed it would announce ending the ban on sending Filipino domestic workers to Hong Kong at a meeting today.
The move comes after a "substantial number" of agencies agreed to stop pursuing the reinstatement of a placement fee of one month's salary levied on maids, which was banned by the Manila government years ago.
Instead, Alfredo Palmiery, president of the society, said agencies would charge Hong Kong employers a higher recruitment fee.
However, the head of an association representing 300 Hong Kong recruitment agencies said she knew of very few agencies that had agreed to this.
Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, vice-chairwoman of the General Chamber of Manpower Agencies, called Palmiery's claims an excuse to end a moratorium on recruitment that was harming the Filipino agencies' business.
The moratorium was announced on February 27 by the 60-member Filipino group after it failed to persuade the Manila government to remove a ban on charging helpers a placement fee of a month's salary.
Now it wants Hong Kong agencies to pay their counterpart agencies in the Philippines HK$5,500 more in total recruitment fees to cover expenses such as plane tickets and insurance.
At least some of this cost would be passed on to the employers, although some local agencies have said they would absorb part of the expense.
Vice-president of Sharp Madolyn Uanang said: "We have achieved our goal in staging the moratorium. We have gained the concurrence of a substantial number of Hong Kong agencies that their employers in Hong Kong are supposed to pay the cost of recruiting Filipino [domestic helpers] and not to pass [such costs] to them. We have convinced them on this matter."
The association's members provide 63 per cent of all Filipinos sent to the city as helpers.
Palmiery said the Filipino agencies were ready to quit the Hong Kong market if the local agencies and employers did not agree to the new arrangements.
In response to a South China Morning Post report last week, Palmiery denied claiming that his association had struck a deal with the Hong Kong chamber. He clarified that his negotiations had been with local agencies, rather than through the chamber.
Liu said that while almost no local agencies had agreed to pay the extra fee she believed the Filipino association would end the moratorium today, as it was bad for business.
Her chamber has told Sharp it is willing to meet the association if the moratorium is called off.
There are about 300,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong and almost half of them are from the Philippines.
Amid indications from the Philippines and Indonesia - the other main supplier of helpers - that they will discourage their citizens from working abroad as maids, agencies have recently made arrangements to import helpers from Bangladesh.