A senior government official yesterday pledged to step up efforts to protect the rights of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, including raising the maximum penalty for wage offences. Permanent Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Matthew Cheung Kin-chung made the pledge during a meeting with representatives from 25 foreign domestic helpers' unions and NGOs, the Labour Department and Immigration Department. 'We will leave no stone unturned in protecting the rights and benefits of [helpers] by stepping up prosecution, enforcement and publicity efforts. The Labour Department takes a very serious view of wage underpayment and employers' failure to grant rest days and holidays. We do not, and will not, tolerate any abuse,' he said. In the first eight months of this year, 35 summons convictions were made against employers for breaching the Employment Ordinance. This exceeded the total of 33 for all of last year and 29 for 2003, he said. The department would also seek to amend the legislation to raise the maximum penalty for wage offences from a fine of $200,000 and one year in jail to a fine of $350,000 and imprisonment for three years. 'We take a very serious view on overcharging and other malpractices of local agencies and will spare no effort in clamping down on offenders,' Mr Cheung said. Two such agencies have had their licences revoked this year because they charged too much commission or breached the Immigration Ordinance. Last year the department revoked two licences and refused to issue two others. An information expo will be held on the first two Sundays of next month in Victoria Park and Statue Square to raise awareness among maids of their rights and the channels for addressing their complaints.