Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Online blacklist of rogue Hong Kong job agencies to help domestic workers

Labour Department acknowledges ‘long-standing requests’ for easier access to records in bid to help jobseekers and employers make ‘more informed’ decisions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 August, 2018, 8:30am

The Labour Department intends to begin publishing blacklists of rogue employment agencies online to help Hong Kong jobseekers, especially domestic helpers, stay clear of unscrupulous operators such as those charging exorbitant fees.

The lists, to be updated monthly, will name agencies that fall into three categories: those convicted of overcharging or having unlicensed operations; those whose licences were revoked or not renewed; and those who received written warnings for poor conduct, such as withholding passports of workers and failing to draw up agreements with them.

In a consultation paper issued on Friday, the department acknowledged there had been “long-standing requests” for easier access to the track records of employment agencies, especially from domestic helpers and their employers.

Previously they would need to search notices or press releases on the department’s Employment Agencies Administration website to learn about convictions or licence revocations, with no comprehensive, at-a-glance blacklist available.

Information on written warnings was not available as this relates to a new voluntary code of conduct for the industry that started in January last year. It outlines the statutory requirements and “minimum standards” that employment agencies must follow, including keeping recruitment fees below 10 per cent of a jobseeker’s first month’s wages.

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The department said the changes would help “jobseekers and employers make a more informed decision and avoid falling prey to unscrupulous employment agencies”. It would also “foster the adoption of good practices by employment agencies and raise the service standard of the [industry],” it added.

It proposed putting online for two years the names of agencies convicted for overcharging or operating without a licence, and one-year publication duration for those in the other two categories.

More than 3,000 employment agencies operate in Hong Kong, and many deal with foreign domestic workers. The city has about 380,000 maids, with about half coming from the Philippines.

A recent probe by the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union found agencies were demanding from workers between HK$3,500 (US$446) and HK$10,000 – eight to 20 times over the legal limit – for job placements.

Employment agencies, or any of their staffers found overcharging, face a maximum penalty of HK$350,000 and three years in jail.

Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body said he was not wholly satisfied with the government’s proposals, noting there were “loopholes”.

Errant agencies and not the people behind them would be named and shamed, but business owners normally had more than one company, allowing them to continue behaving deceitfully.

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Villanueva said he had already given this feedback to the department. He added that not many migrants looking for work in the city had regular internet access.

University of Hong Kong academic and social entrepreneur David Bishop, welcomed the announcement but stressed it was only a “baby step”.

Until the government gets serious ... these problems will persist
David Bishop, HKU

“[It] will not do much to deter unscrupulous agencies from overcharging or engaging in illegal behaviour,” Bishop said. “Until the government gets serious ... and allocates resources to really enforce the law, these problems will persist.”

But Felicidad Sumaoang, a Filipino maid based in Hong Kong for 20 years, cheered the move.

“I feel very happy that the government is already working on the problem,” she said.

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The 46-year-old recalled choosing from as many as 200 job agencies when she was planning to leave her native country for Hong Kong. The only way she could ascertain whether an agency engaged in legitimate practices was to file an inquiry with the city’s Philippine consulate and wait for its response.

An online blacklist would make things much easier, she said.

The public has until September 7 to submit views on the proposal to the Labour Department.