Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Diplomats call for end to illegal work orders for Hong Kong domestic helpers

Indonesian and Filipino consulates say government must stop employers forcing domestic helpers to work on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 8:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 10:33am

The Indonesian and Filipino consulates in Hong Kong have urged the government to get tough on local employers breaking the law by putting their domestic helpers to work on the mainland, after one such helper died in Shenzhen.

The consulates also warned they could put offenders on a watch list if they forced their helpers to work at an address which was not specified in their contracts.

Indonesian consul-general Tri Tharyat said he had detected on average two to three cases a month over the past year of helpers who were frequently taken to the mainland to work.

“We have to stop this practice now,” he said. “I don’t think we need to wait for someone else to die because of this.”

Vice-consul Alex Vallespin at the Philippine consulate also called for more “stringent measures”, urging authorities to “get to the bottom” of Lorain Asuncion’s case. The Filipino domestic helper fell to her death from a building in Shenzhen on July 24 after allegedly being sent by her Hong Kong employers to work at a relative’s house.

The diplomats were responding to a report by the Post last week that the Immigration Department had referred Asuncion’s death to police as a “suspected human trafficking case.”

On Thursday, police arrested her Hong Kong employers for conspiracy to defraud. The couple were then released on bail and are expected to report to police in mid-September.

Rights groups said Asuncion’s case highlighted a “dangerous trend” – that has become prevalent in recent years – of employers breaching contracts by taking their helpers to work outside Hong Kong.

Tri said he realised there was a problem when the consulate found some helpers’ passports ran out of pages in less than two years. In one case, “the employer took her to mainland China every weekend”, he said.

Some helpers, Tri said, even had multiple-entry visas to the mainland. “I cannot comment on the granting of these visas, but I think they should have a closer look at this,” he said.

The Indonesian diplomat said he had raised some of these concerns to Hong Kong authorities.

“Their answer was that helpers should report the cases, something that they will not do, because they are afraid of losing their jobs,” Tri said.

“I think we should work on a policy level and operational level. There should be more stern measures taken by the Hong Kong government against these employers who employ their helpers in more than one address ... I really hope there are more sanctions.”

Always on duty: foreign domestic helpers around the world

The consul-general pointed out that he did not have the means to punish local employers.

“If they keep repeating the same practice, the best I can do is to put them on a black list.”

Vice-consul Vallespin also said the Philippine consulate had notified local authorities but not enough was being done.

“The common reply is for them to intensify the education of employers ... but if the education campaign does not work, I think they should level up.”

Vallespin said the consulate kept a “watch list” of employers who broke rules and a “black list” of those who were banned from hiring a helper.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said employers providing false information would be liable to prosecution, a maximum fine of HK$150,000 and imprisonment for 14 years on conviction.

Rights groups have repeatedly called in recent years for Hong Kong to introduce anti-human trafficking laws that punish labour trafficking.