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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

New 24-hour hotline for Hong Kong’s domestic foreign workers ‘a small step in right direction’

  • Concern group welcomes move by Labour Department, while lawmaker Fernando Cheung urges government to do more
  • Translation service in seven languages will also be provided
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 11:10pm

A new 24-hour hotline providing support services for more than 380,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong was launched on Wednesday.

In a move welcomed by a concern group, a translation service will also be available in seven languages between 8am and 10pm every day, except public holidays, according to the Labour Department.

The department said the hotline will give advice to domestic workers about their employment rights and obligations, and also refer requests for help, advise workers which law enforcement agency to contact in the event of exploitation or physical abuse.

Alongside English, Cantonese and Mandarin, seven other languages - Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, Nepali, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu - will be available, while the department said workers could also send enquiries via email.

Workers whose personal safety is at risk should still call 999 for immediate police assistance, the department added.

Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, welcomed the initiative.

The round-the-clock nature of the hotline could help workers whose phone use is restricted by employers, Villanueva said.

“This will be helpful for those who might be unable to personally go to the department,” he said.

In the past, workers faced difficulties in submitting complaint forms and other documents, as the department’s offices were closed on Sunday, when most domestic workers get a day off, he said.

Workers will also feel more comfortable if they can talk in their native language, he added.

Villanueva urged the government to also consider keeping some offices under the Labour Department open on Sundays.

“It can be a skeletal set-up … so workers can make complaints in person,” he said.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said the new hotline was a small step in the right direction.

While the hotline was an improvement, Cheung said it was purely informational and could not help solve issues workers sometimes face.

Aid in resolving conflicts with employees, and the handling of abuse, is still largely provided by non-governmental organisations, he said.

Cheung urged the government to provide other services, such as emergency shelter, to domestic workers.

“We cannot treat them as tools, they are humans,” Cheung said.

A shelter may help workers who have their contracts terminated and are tied in legal dispute with employers, he said.

Under the law, foreign domestic workers must leave Hong Kong within two weeks after the end a contract.

According to concern groups, this arrangement has made it difficult for workers to attend court sessions at the Labour Tribunal.

The telephone number for the hotline number is 2157 9537.