Halt on helpers sends a reminder to us all
Now that Manila has stood up for its workers, Hong Kong has time to reflect on its impact and ensure unscrupulous recruiters do not tarnish the city’s image
Hong Kong is so dependent on domestic helpers that no one seriously contemplates a city without them, or how it would cope. But we are getting a salutary reminder following strong action by the Philippine government on reports of the illegal recruitment of helpers. Manila has halted the processing of applications to work overseas as helpers until at least December 1, after it identified “pernicious activities of certain unscrupulous individuals preying on Filipinos”.
The malpractice apparently involves the channelling of helpers from their legal place of employment to work elsewhere. Fortunately, in this case, there is no suggestion Hong Kong is being targeted, although the Philippine consulate has received four complaints about a local agency channelling helpers to work in Russia, and there have been reports of helpers working illegally on the mainland.
But the freeze is a timely warning of the serious implications of any perception that helpers are being exploited or mistreated.
Even a 19-day freeze would affect about 1,000 local families who depend on obtaining the services of a helper within that period, according to Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong.
The Social Welfare Department will help take care of children or the elderly in families affected by the suspension and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the Immigration Department would be flexible with work permits. It was good to hear Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor vow to take “vigorous enforcement action” against any local employment agencies that illegally arrange for helpers to work abroad.
The government introduced a voluntary code of practice for employment agencies this year to protect helpers from abuse and exploitation such as gross overcharging. Now that the Philippine authorities have shown they are prepared to stand up for helpers, the Hong Kong government should stand by or even bring forward its threat to make the code of practice mandatory within two years if agencies do not clean up their act. The city cannot afford to have its reputation tarnished by unscrupulous agencies that prey on helpers.