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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Thousands of Filipino domestic helpers to see arrival in Hong Kong halted over recruitment concerns

Archipelago nation’s labour officials cite ‘certain unscrupulous individuals’ as reason for suspension

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 November, 2017, 11:47pm

Thousands of Filipino domestic helpers planning to work in Hong Kong will have their arrival delayed by at least three weeks after their government announced a halt in the export of labour effective from Monday.

Secretary for Labour and ­Welfare Law Chi-kwong ­estimated that the move could affect about 1,000 local families.

In a circular issued to foreign domestic helper employment agencies in Hong Kong on Friday, the Philippines’ labour and employment department announced a 19-day suspension on giving overseas employment certificates. The document is necessary for all outbound workers from the archipelago nation, including domestic helpers.

Expand subsidy plan for domestic helpers to include more low-income elderly Hongkongers, officials urged

The department said the suspension came after it had identified “persistent reports of illegal recruitment” and “pernicious activities of certain unscrupulous individuals preying on Filipinos”. It added the suspension could be extended beyond December 1.

But those hired by international organisations or diplomats were to be exempted from the suspension.

Speaking on a radio programme on Saturday, Law said the Philippine government did not tell him about the move beforehand and he had since ­contacted the Philippine consulate in the city to express concern.

“I believe this [ban] has no direct link to Hong Kong. Of course, we hope we won’t be ­affected unfairly,” Law said. “We will look into what measures we can take to help these families.”

Law said he believed no local families had been involved in ­illegal hiring and hoped the ban could be lifted for places that were not involved in illegal ­recruitment.

Chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is in Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, said she noted the incident but did not have a chance to discuss the issue with Philippine ­President Rodrigo Duterte, who is attending the same event.

Lam emphasised that the move did not target Hong Kong, but was aimed at other parts of the world.

Local employment agencies expressed surprise over the news. Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of the local agency Technic Employment Service Centre, estimated that thousands of Hong Kong-bound maids would be affected.

Elain Fung Siu-ling, director of Indo Indah Employment Agency, claimed it was the first time Filipino domestic helpers were denied the migration papers.

The government needed time to vet all overseas work applications
Elain Fung, Indo Indah employment Agency

“I was told some suspicious movement of labour from the Philippines to countries like Turkey and Russia led to the ban,” she said. “The government needed time to vet all overseas work applications.”

The hiring process for foreign domestic helpers typically takes two to three months. Before applying for overseas employment certificates, the workers will have already nailed down a contract with an employer in Hong Kong and received a physical examination in the Philippines.

It then takes one week for a certificate to be approved. Upon this approval, many maids book their flights to the city.

“When they are allowed to come in December, the air tickets will be much more expensive because it is close to Christmas peak travelling season,” Fung added.

“Around 20 of my clients were affected. They were also worried the maids would not come through in the end.”

Hong Kong will need 600,000 domestic helpers in next 30 years amid demand for elderly care, labour chief says

Domestic helpers are expected to play an increasingly prominent role in serving Hong Kong’s rapidly ageing population. Residents aged 65 or older are likely to make up close to one-third of the population in 2036. By 2050, one in seven residents will be aged 80 or older.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-Kwong told the Post earlier that he was considering a groundbreaking subsidy scheme for elderly single residents to hire domestic helpers. The idea is to ease the city’s strained elderly care system, as the average waiting period for community services is up to 11 months.

Additional reporting by Peace Chiu