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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

No progress yet on blacklist of rogue recruiters to aid Hong Kong jobseekers, especially domestic helpers

  • Government spokesman says list is not retroactive and will only consider agencies who flout rules since new portal’s launch
  • Groups call for reclassification of domestic helpers as ethnic minorities
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 9:33pm

A newly launched Hong Kong Labour Department initiative against rogue recruiters has yet to fulfil its promise of publishing a blacklist of employment agencies online to help jobseekers, especially domestic helpers.

On October 10, authorities announced a plan to name unscrupulous recruiters, including providing their conviction records, revocation or refusal of licence and written warnings issued on the Employment Agencies Portal.

Although names on the list will remain online for one or two years, a check more than a month after the portal’s launch showed not a single recruiter had been blacklisted. The website is run by the Employment Agencies Administration (EAA) under the department.

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A spokesman for the department said this was because agencies with past violations were not targeted, with the list set only for those who flout rules since its inception.

Cynthia Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, a charitable organisation, said: “We definitely welcome these efforts although we have yet to see how they are implemented with regards to unscrupulous agencies.”

We definitely welcome these efforts although we have yet to see how they are implemented with regards to unscrupulous agencies
Cynthia Tellez, Mission for Migrant Workers

The department conducted a month-long consultation on the plan, which would provide aid especially to domestic helpers seeking work in the city, who are at times exploited by agencies charging exorbitant fees.

Most respondents surveyed between August 10 and September 7 supported the proposal.

The department spokesman said: “There have been long-standing requests from the community, including users of [our] employment agency services, to enhance transparency and facilitate public access to the EAA’s track records.”

The portal was among new policy initiatives listed by the department in response to a Post inquiry about Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s vow in her policy address to enhance support for some 380,000 domestic helpers in the city.

Lam had made the pledge over an address on human rights, praising such workers for “unleashing the potential of the local labour force”.

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The department spokesman said it would continue to “adopt a multipronged approach to enhance the protection for helpers”.

Since February, the fine for overcharging jobseekers has been raised to HK$350,000, including a three-year jail term, with the number of annual inspections on agencies increased from 1,800 to 2,000. The launch of the portal counts among such initiatives.

“We will also strengthen support and help [domestic helpers] with a view to preventing them from being exploited,” the spokesman said.

Tellez also called for a mechanism to ensure such workers have adequate accommodation and that areas in employers’ homes such as toilets, bath tubs, cupboards, refrigerator tops and staircases should be listed as unsuitable in employment contracts.

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Meanwhile, concern groups have questioned why domestic helpers are not included in the ethnic minority population when they live and work in the city, depriving them of services.

Adrielle Panares, director for the migrants programme at International Social Service, said it used to be that anyone non-Chinese and with a Hong Kong ID card would be considered a member of an ethnic minority group.

“But now it is streamlined into very definite Hong Kong resident minorities and migrant labour, “ she said.

Cheung Ang Siew-mei, executive director of Christian Action, an NGO, said domestic helpers should be considered ethnic minorities as “they live here and serve here”.

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Panares said the reclassification had affected services provided by International Social Service at the airport for new arrivals in the city, including those from ethnic minority groups and helpers.

“Part of our job is to work with the labour population and we’ve been serving them all these years. They are very much in need of language support and orientation upon arrival because we have to tell them their rights,” she said.

But a spokesman for the Home Affairs Department said International Social Service already provided a practical guide for foreign domestic helpers at the airport. The group also offers helpers interpretation help and an inquiry service where necessary.

“This arrangement has remained in effect to this day,” the department spokesman said.

However, he did not comment on why helpers were not considered ethnic minorities.