Helpers working less than 18 hours a week are not protected by labour laws The government has been urged to give more protection to part-time workers amid claims domestic helpers are being exploited by unscrupulous employers. The Federation of Trade Unions called for labour laws to be amended to extend legal protection to people working at least 12 hours a week, instead of the 18 hours required under existing laws. This follows complaints by local domestic helpers that they had been cheated out of their wages and forced to work for nothing if they wanted to terminate their contracts. Calling for the amendment yesterday, federation vice-president Chan Yuen-han said she was outraged by such practices - especially as some helpers were being referred to employment agencies through the Labour Department's employment service. One of the helpers, Annie Chan, said the agency through which she was hired was withholding $2,522 in wages, and she had found a clause in her contract required her to work without pay for 56 hours if she wanted to terminate the contract. Ms Chan said that when she complained to the Labour Department, it said it could not help because she was employed only 15 hours a week, three hours short of what is needed for legal protection. Chan Yuen-han, an election candidate in Kowloon East, said she was outraged by the actions of the agent, which she said preyed on the ignorant or the illiterate. 'There are many issues concerning [part-time] domestic service workers that the government has not faced up to. For example, they are not covered by the labour law. 'It's even more absurd that it was through the Labour Department's employment service that Annie Chan found her troublesome job and that the agent advertised jobs that did not even follow Hong Kong's labour law.' The federation's in-house lawyer, Kwong Chi-kin, said the inclusion of the free-service term in the contract was 'brazen flouting of Hong Kong's labour law'. He pointed out that to end contractual employment under Hong Kong law, either party need only give one month's advance notice or one month's salary in lieu after working for three months. 'But there is nothing in the law that allows the employee to be compelled to render free service before he or she can sever the relationship,' he said. Another domestic helper, Iny Li, complained her employer had deducted $1,008 from her wages after claiming she had resigned without giving advance notice. 'I had been resigning each and every month since I started the job. But [the employer] just ignored my advance notices time and again,' she said. 'So when I took action to sever the employment, he drove to my place late one night to demand I sign an agreement that nine days' wages be deducted due to 'my breach of contract by not having given advance notice [to quit]'.'