Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Indonesian helpers in Hong Kong to gain renewal option as consul general tackles overcharging

From January 1, agencies no longer required route for domestic workers in the city and their employers to extend their contracts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 9:30pm

Indonesian domestic workers and their employers in Hong Kong will no longer be obliged to file contract renewals through agencies from January 1, under a new policy by the country’s consulate in the city that could stop agencies from illegally forcing the workers to pay the renewal fees.

The voluntary policy requires the consent of both the worker and employer and has won the support of domestic workers who said they could finally sit and carefully scan the contract terms.

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“The new policy is mainly aimed at making their lives easier,” Indonesian consul general Tri Tharyat said on Wednesday.

At present, employers and domestic workers are required to file contract renewal applications at the consulate through the agencies. The agencies are not legally allowed to charge the workers renewal fees – a sum of around HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 that the employers should bear.

But domestic worker unions said it was common for the agencies and employers to force the workers to bear the cost.

By law, agencies can only charge domestic workers 10 per cent of their first month’s salary as a placement fee. As the monthly minimum wage is now HK$4,310, the amount should be HK$431. Asked if the new policy was introduced because many agencies overcharged workers, Tri said: “I cannot speak on behalf of the employers or the employees whether they are overcharged or not. I provide them an option. If they follow my new mechanism, they don’t need to pay anything to the agencies as long as they do everything themselves.”

Tri told the Post last month that placement fee overcharging was the “most serious” issue being tackled by the consulate.

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Under the new arrangement, employers and workers can file the renewal applications at the consulates by themselves by handing in an application form as well as a number of supporting documents, including the insurance document, old contract, and identity card photocopies of both the employer and worker.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said the Philippine consulate actually had this policy in place for years. Yet many employers prefer renewing their workers’ contracts on their own to avoid having to pay the renewal fee.

“But Indonesian workers are always forced to do it through the agencies and pay the fees themselves,” he said.

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Sringatin, spokeswoman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, said the new process would enable helpers to have “a better look at the contract”.

I think the agencies may soon lower the price of the renewal fee
Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, Employers of Domestic Helpers Association

Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairwoman Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee said it was difficult to say whether she supported the policy at this stage.

“Some employers prefer letting the agencies handle the renewal because they do not know how to fill the forms,” she said. “I think the agencies may soon lower the price of the renewal fee.”

Cheung Kit-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association, backed the initiative, contending it could defuse the high tensions he said often existed between the workers, employers and agencies.

“I support it because it could lead to better harmony,” he said, while noting the change could generate a much larger workload for the consulate.

Hong Kong is home to about 340,000 domestic workers, roughly half of them Indonesians and the other half Filipinos. The community gained greater attention in recent years due to the abuse suffered by Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a helper who was physically beaten for eight months and not paid a cent.