What ordinance really means

I REFER to the letters from a solicitor headlined, ''Reconsider dubious advice'' and, ''Ordinance has loophole'', published in the South China Morning Post, on October 20 and October 27, respectively, regarding the entitlement of foreign domestic helpers to long service payments, as well as the views expressed on the issue by other correspondents.

I wish to clarify that a continuous contract, for the purpose of computing benefits under the Employment Ordinance, is not necessarily limited to a single, unbroken contract of employment as suggested in the letter.

The definition of continuous employment has been clearly spelt out in the First Schedule to the Employment Ordinance. That schedule provides that employees will be deemed to have been in continuous employment if they have been employed under a contract of employment for four or more weeks. If employees are in continuous employment, they are treated as being employed under a continuous contract by virtue of Section 3 of the ordinance.

It follows that foreign domestic helpers or indeed any employees who have been employed on a series of fixed-term contracts will have a continuous employment with their employers, and provided that they fulfil the qualifying period of service and conditions specified by the Employment Ordinance, they will be entitled to long service payment.

The First Schedule also provides that a week will be counted for the purpose of determining whether an employee has been in continuous employment if that employee has worked, or is treated as having worked, a total of 18 hours or more. Therefore, provided the employee satisfies this requirement, it does not matter that there has been a gap of a few days between contracts. An employer cannot deny an employee his or her entitlement under the ordinance by only offering a new contract which commences a few days after the previous contract has expired.

Incidentally, with effect from November 29, 1991 the specified period of service for entitlement to long service payment upon dismissal, death or resignation on ground of being permanently unfit has been lowered to five years, irrespective of the age of an employee.

If the writer has any other queries, he is welcome to contact our officer-in-charge at 852 3515.

YEUNG CHI-KIN for Commissioner for Labour