The government is giving fresh consideration to freezing the number of foreign domestic helpers allowed into Hong Kong as a means to ease unemployment. If adopted, the plan would bring in a quota for foreign helpers, a government spokesman said. Employers would be screened and required to provide adequate accommodation for live-in helpers, the spokesman said. 'As part of the government's overall efforts to ease growing unemployment, we are exploring ways and means of improving the employment prospect of local domestic helpers,' he said. 'We have an open mind.' Legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier and a member of Legco's manpower panel, said she was surprised at the possibility of a freeze on foreign maids. 'If the administration has changed its position all of a sudden, we have to know its rationale,' she said. Ms Ho said she would prefer the government act to ensure the quality and reliability of local maids so that more people, such as unmarried individuals, childless couples or those with grown-up children, would be encouraged to hire them. The Federation of Trade Unions and the Employees Retraining Board have been calling for a freeze on the number of foreign helpers. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, conceded the record unemployment rate - at 7.7 per cent - and the ever-increasing number of foreign maids were a concern. However, he believes a quota is unfair, not very practicable and open to abuse. 'The main thing to do is to look for the reasons for the rise in the number [of foreign helpers], and that is because of underpayment of Indonesian maids,' he said. 'The government should crack down on underpayment. This would immediately reduce the number of foreign domestic helpers.' Acting Philippine Consul-General Domingo Lucenario said he was aware of the proposal but had not been told of any decision. Indonesian Consul for Information and Culture Sitorus Sahat said the freeze would be 'bad news for us'. He suggested diplomats from maid-exporting countries discuss their response to the proposal. Hong Kong had 239,410 foreign maids at the end of June. Of these, 64 per cent came from the Philippines and 31 per cent from Indonesia. They are the only workers in Hong Kong with a minimum wage set by the government - $3,670 a month.