The number of Indonesian maids in Hong Kong rose by almost a quarter last year - making the often-underpaid helpers by far the fastest-growing migrant group in the territory, according to Immigration Department figures. There were 68,400 Indonesian domestic helpers employed up to November, an increase of 13,200 over the number recorded in December 2000 - a 24 per cent jump. Officials said the December 2001 figures were still being compiled. On average for the first 11 months last year, the population of Indonesian domestic helpers grew by 1,200 a month. Despite the economic downturn, there were 235,120 foreign domestic helpers working in the SAR by November, a rise of 18,330 on the December 2000 figure. Apart from Indonesians, there were 155,790 Filipinos, 7,000 Thais and 3,930 others. Hiring continued without let-up even after the September 11 attacks in the United States, with the rate of increase by November already far in excess of that during the Asian economic crisis in 1997 and 1998, when the maid population rose by 6,700 and 9,600 respectively. Cynthia Tellez, director of the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers, said the continued increase in overseas domestic helpers showed Hong Kong employers could afford to hire them at the existing minimum of $3,670 a month. The Government is reviewing maids' pay. 'If their pay is cut further, the foreign helpers would present yet stiffer competition to local domestic helpers. Foreign maids are on call 24 hours a day,' Ms Tellez said. Eni Lestari-Andayani, chairman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers' Association, said: 'The first reason for the increase in the number of Indonesian maids is that employers can underpay them.' She said half of Indonesians were receiving between $1,800 and $2,000 a month, adding that information about the plight of Indonesian helpers in Hong Kong was not being widely reported in her home country, in contrast to the Philippines. Up to November, there were 155,790 Filipino maids in Hong Kong - making them the largest community of domestic helpers, despite a slowdown in the growth of their numbers. The figure is 4,300 more - or 2.8 per cent - than the number at the end of 2000. The average monthly increase in Filipino maids was about 390 last year. Philippine Consul-General Zeneida Angara-Collinson said the number of Filipino maids had stabilised at about 150,000. She said the increase in the total population of foreign domestic helpers was due to structural unemployment in Hong Kong in which unemployed locals were unwilling to take up the jobs of helpers who lived with their employers.