The two-year suspension of the levy on foreign maids will start next month, a month earlier than planned, after the government heeded calls from employers' and workers' groups who said an earlier date was necessary to avoid confusion. The Labour and Welfare Bureau announced after a meeting with the Immigration Department yesterday afternoon that the HK$400-a-month employees retraining levy would be waived for two years on contracts signed on or after August 1. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said it would benefit more than 16,000 employers of foreign domestic helpers as August was the peak period for new applications and contract renewals. Earlier there had been fears that employers would delay hiring maids or renewing contracts until September to take advantage of the levy. Mr Cheung said: 'It is important to note that suspension will apply to all cases where the visa for the foreign domestic helpers is granted by the Immigration Department between August 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010, including renewal of existing contracts and signing of new contracts, instead of the date that the visa application is submitted.' He called on employers who could not benefit immediately from the suspension not to terminate the contracts of their domestic helpers prematurely. Mr Cheung said these employers would still enjoy the full two-year levy suspension when renewing contracts or hiring new helpers during the suspension period. The bureau said implementation details would be announced as soon as possible after the Executive Council gave its approval. The levy suspension, originally scheduled to go into effect on September 1, is part of a package of relief measures to lighten the burden of low-income earners and the middle class hit hard by inflation. Joseph Law, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, said the change was an improvement. 'Early execution of the levy suspension will minimise confusion over the measure, and employers do not have to terminate contracts with workers or think of ways to make sure they can enjoy the suspension,' he said. Mia Sumiati, of the Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers, expressed disappointment, saying that the levy should be scrapped altogether. 'If the levy was not scrapped, then at least the government could have introduced the levy suspension immediately,' she said. 'Workers who signed contracts with employers before August 1 are still in fear, as they might be sacked by their bosses who want to enjoy the levy suspension at once.' A spokesman for the Immigration Department said the department still had no detailed plans about how to execute the suspension. A source familiar with frontline immigration officers said they would prefer a clear order on when and how the new measure was going to be implemented. 'If the levy is to be suspended earlier than scheduled, we hope to be informed earlier for better preparations,' the source said. A surge in work permit applications was expected when the waiver took effect, but in the long term the officers would have their workload alleviated by not having to recover unpaid levies, the source said.