HAVING a domestic helper to mind the children, mop the floor and iron shirts is no longer the luxury of the super rich in Hong Kong, according to figures due to be published next year. The General Household Survey, conducted by the Census and Statistics Department, shows the number of households employing domestic helpers nearly doubled in the last six years, rising from 59,000 in 1988 to 92,700 by February last year. These households have a relatively modest monthly income of just $32,549. Over 90 per cent of them are made up of two or more people, and recent figures suggest a third of salary earners make between $10,000 and $30,000 per month. The government report, due out next March, also shows that more households are opting for paying the $3,750 minimum monthly salary to have a live-in helper rather than hiring someone on an hourly-rate to clean. In 1987, just 72.8 per cent of helpers actually lived with their employers, and 24.5 per cent were part time. Now more than 83 per cent of helpers live in, and less than 15 per cent are part-timers. However, wages for part-time helpers have gone up by almost a third since 1990, rising from an average of $31 per hour to $40 last year. For $40 per hour, most households hire helpers to do the cleaning, washing and ironing. One in five live-in helpers are employed to take care of elderly relatives, small children or expectant mothers. In theory, there is no limit to the number of overseas domestic helpers that can be imported to work in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association estimates the number of overseas helpers could rise to 200,000 by the end of the century. However, not all will be Filipinas. Although they still comprise 80 per cent of domestic helpers, the survey showed an increase in hiring Indonesians. Over the past 20 months their numbers have almost trebled from 3,806 to 9,873. The new households taking on live-in helpers usually wanted girls who were Chinese speaking, a situation made difficult by a government ban on citizens of mainland China, Taiwan and Macau becoming maids. 'We look at the figures and we see there are more and more working wives, and families originally from China who don't speak English, hiring helpers,' said association spokeswoman, Betty Yeung Ma Shen-yee. 'There are language problems when the helpers have to take care of old people and children.' She also said many of the problems the Labour Department has pointed to in the past in regard to mainland helpers were avoidable if thorough vetting procedures of potential helpers were used. Ms Yeung said her members had few complaints about their maids. The Association estimates that, of the total number of overseas helpers in the territory, about 23,000 have been involved in disputes with employers.