A migrants' rights group marched to Labour Department headquarters in Central yesterday to protest against its refusal to review rules forcing foreign domestic workers to live with their employers.
The "live-in" requirement leaves the domestic helpers susceptible to abuse, the campaigners said.
The protest came after Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih's alleged abuse in her employer's Tseung Kwan O home came to light.
A 44-year-old housewife has since been charged with wounding and threatening the helper. She is also accused of abusing two other maids.
"I think it is very irresponsible for Labour Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung to say [he will not review the live-in arrangement], especially at the height of Erwiana's case," said Eman Villaneuva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body.
"Everyone knows … the requirement is a main reason why foreign domestic helpers are being abused. Cheung should be more open and not take a hardline stance on the issue."
Yesterday, some 50 protesters led by the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union marched on the walkways from Exchange Square in Central to the department's headquarters on Pier Road.
They were joined by supporters from the Filipino Migrant Workers' Union, the Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrants and the International Migrants Alliance.
Cheung last week flatly rejected calls for the live-in rule to be lifted in light of the alleged abuse case. He said the requirement was "a matter of principle".
François Crepeau, the UN special rapporteur on migrants' rights, said on Wednesday: "Those in the most precarious situation are those who live within the family home, because no one knows what's happening inside the family compound."
According to a study of 3,000 migrant workers by the Mission for Migrant Workers, 58 per cent of foreign domestic workers have suffered verbal abuse, 18 per cent have experienced physical abuse, and 6 per cent have been sexually abused. Half the respondents were from Indonesia, 1,300 from the Philippines and the rest from elsewhere.
The protesters yesterday handed a petition addressed to Cheung to a Labour Department executive officer, demanding the department take better action to regulate unscrupulous agencies.