Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Despite Joko Widodo pledge, Indonesian domestic helpers are still coming to Hong Kong

Indonesian president had vowed to restrict numbers, but consul general revealed an average of 1,000 a month had entered city since July

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 8:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 11:35pm

Plans to stem the flow of Indonesian domestic helpers to Hong Kong appear to have been put on hold after the country’s consul general in the city revealed 5,000 maids had entered Hong Kong in the last five months, more than in the whole of 2016.

Speaking on the sidelines of a launch event for Indonesia’s chamber of commerce, Consul General Tri Tharyat said a monthly average of 1,000 new Indonesian domestic helpers had come to Hong Kong for employment.

“We are still very much open. Recently the government enacted the new law for protection of Indonesian workers abroad, so I think it is giving more protection to our foreign workers, in which there will be more engagement of the governments … and giving less and less of a role to the [employment] agencies,” he said.

According to Hong Kong government figures, there were an additional 3,834 Indonesian domestic helpers in 2016. Figures from the last five months have exceeded last year’s number.

This is in contrast to Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s earlier pledge to restrict the flow of Indonesians working abroad as domestic helpers. Widodo said he wished to improve the skills of Indonesian workers so they did not need to work overseas as domestic helpers.

The consul general also hoped the city’s government would explore categorising domestic helper roles, such as carers, house cleaning and cooks, similar to the practice in Taiwan.

In 2015, Taiwan split the categories of domestic worker and caretaker. Domestic workers were expected to look after young children, while caregivers strictly took care of the elderly or mentally or physically disabled children.

Tharyat said the Taiwanese practice was a good model because it specified what the domestic helpers role was expected to be.

If Indonesian caregivers came to Hong Kong explicitly as elderly caregivers, their contracts would reflect their role and do not have to engage in other work, such as child care.

Indonesia was also open to the idea of having more helpers work in Hong Kong as carers.

“The current government is exploring the possibility of having carers in the near future [for the city’s growing elderly population]. We hope this will be opened to foreign domestic helpers,” Tharyat said.

Hong Kong is committed to protecting foreign domestic helpers’ labour rights and safety

Earlier this month, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong revealed that Hong Kong will need 600,000 domestic helpers in the next 30 years, due to the city’s ageing population.

On helpers being mistreated by employers or cheated by agencies, Tharyat said the consulate’s own code of conduct for employment agencies and an internal blacklist of problematic employers and agencies, that went in to effect March 1, had helped curb such practices.

Tharyat also said he would continue to push the city’s government to increase the statutory minimum wage for domestic helpers to HK$5,000 from the current wage of HK$4,410 per month.

Meanwhile, businessmen and officials launched the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, hoping to establish an economic foothold in the city.

The chamber’s chairman believed Hong Kong was “going through its own changes”, especially with the city’s youth.

“In the past, a lot of people came to Hong Kong to establish financial services and this made Hong Kong a unique place,” Indonesian Chamber of Commerce chairman James Hartono said.

Can Hong Kong attract more foreign domestic workers to meet its growing elderly and child care needs?

“But in the future, the younger generation from Hong Kong, [will] have to go [abroad]” to find business and employment opportunities.

Hartono said the best business opportunity in Indonesia at the moment was trading goods.