Legislators fear legal review of wage rules

Agnes Lam

Lawmakers have expressed fears that the government might face legal action if foreign domestic helpers were not covered by the proposed minimum wage law.

Speaking at a meeting of the Legislative Council's manpower panel yesterday, Liberal Party legislator Miriam Lau Kin-yee said the threat of a judicial review was like a time bomb for the 200,000 middle class families that hire foreign domestic workers.

'I want to know if the government is prepared to deal with this possible threat. What if the government is really challenged and loses the legal battle? The consequence will be disastrous to local workers and working women. We cannot take this risk,' she said.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he understood the middle class families' concerns. 'We will collect views from different parties and consult unions before we submit the bill. But we cannot rule out the possibility of facing a judicial review,' he said.

Mr Cheung noted that live-in domestic workers in Britain and South Korea were not covered by minimum wage legislation. But the Asian Migrant Workers Credit Union, a migrant workers' group, said British legislation included maximum working hours and overtime pay.

'As for the South Korean model, the administration there doesn't even allow foreign domestic helpers to form a union. It is a very bad example. Why should the Hong Kong model follow it?' union co-ordinator Sari Canate Jotojot said.

'We will seek a judicial review if foreign domestic helpers are not covered by the statutory minimum wage. If the government wants to follow the British model, then it should copy the model fully, which means it has to set maximum working hours and require bosses to pay extra for overtime work.'

Dozens of foreign domestic helpers protested outside the Legislative Council building yesterday and submitted a letter to lawmakers. The union said it had asked to meet the government on May 3.