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Foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong

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Advertising for agency specialised in foreign domestic helpers in North Point, Hong Kong

Foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong (Chinese: 香港外籍家庭傭工) are foreign domestic workers and housemaids employed by Hongkongers, typically families. They make up approximately 3% of the population of Hong Kong and an overwhelming majority of them are women. In 2010, there were 284,901 foreign domestic helpers in territory, of which 48% were from the Philippines, 49.4% from Indonesia, and 1.3% from Thailand. They are required by law to live in their employer's residence and perform various household duties such as cooking, serving, cleaning, dish-washing, and child-minding.[1]

Since October 2003, the employment of domestic workers has been subject to the unpopular Employees' Retraining Levy totalling HK$9,600 for the duration of a two-year contract. It has not been applied since 16 July 2008 and has since been abolished. There is a debate regarding whether foreign workers should be able to apply for Hong Kong residency. A high-profile court battle for residency by one such failed.[2][3]

The regime relating to foreign domestic workers has been coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism by human rights groups for being tantamount to modern-day slavery. There are an increasing number of documented cases of severe abuse of workers, including the successful prosecution of an employer for subjecting Erwiana Sulistyaningsih to grievous bodily harm, assault, criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages.[4]

Terminology[edit]

Helpers meeting on Sunday at Statue Square in Central

In Hong Kong Cantonese, the term 女傭 (maid) and 外傭 (foreign servant) are a neutral and socially acceptable term for foreign domestic helpers. However, the term fei yung (菲傭, Filipino servant) used to refer to foreign domestic helpers regardless of their origin at a time when most workers came from the Philippines. The slang term bun mui (賓妹, 'pinoy girl) is used widely by the locals.[5]

In Chinese-language government documentation, foreign domestic helpers are referred to as 家庭傭工, translated as "domestic workers", that are either "of foreign nationalities" (as in 外籍家庭傭工[6]) or "recruited from abroad" (as in 外地區聘用家庭傭工[7]). The government uses wording with the same meanings in English-language documentation, but it specifically uses the term "domestic helper" instead of "domestic worker".[8][9] However, Adwina Antonio, director of the Bethune House shelter for domestic workers, criticises the appellation, saying that the migrants do dirty jobs, and referring to them as "helpers" strips them of the dignity that might be accorded to workers, implying that they can be treated badly, like slaves.[10]

History[edit]

Faced with a poor performing economy in the 1970s, the President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos implemented the Labor Code of 1974, beginning the Philippines' export of labour in the form of overseas Filipino workers. The Philippine government promoted and encouraged labour export as a way to combat rising unemployment rates and to finance its coffers with overseas workers' remittances home.[11] In the following years, the economy of the Philippines became increasingly dependent on labour export, and in 1978, recruiting agencies for labour export were privatised, making it a cornerstone of the Philippine national development strategy.[12]

This trend of increasing labour export in the Philippines was to coincide with the economic rise of Hong Kong in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When the People's Republic of China implemented wide-reaching economic reforms in the late 1970s and initiated trade with other countries,[13] Hong Kong became mainland China's biggest investor.[14] Labour-intensive industries in Hong Kong moved to the mainland, and high profit service industries such as design, marketing, and finance in the territory expanded dramatically. To deal with the resulting labour shortage and increase in labour costs, the female labour force was mobilised. Consequently, families with two incomes sought help to manage their households, creating demand for domestic workers. Their role in Hong Kong allowed for a greater participation of females in the workforce – an increase from 47.5% in 1982 to 54.7% in 2013.[10] Hong Kong families began hiring foreign domestic workers from the Philippines, with the number of them hired steadily increasing through the 1980s and the 1990s.[14]

Prevalence and demographic[edit]

Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered attractive destinations to those seeking employment as domestic workers.[15] Quartz cites Hong Kong as having one of the highest density of foreign domestic workers in the world, and the pay levels thus serve as a benchmark for other jurisdictions. Since the mid-1970s, when the FDH policy was initiated, the number of workers has increased to around 300,000. At the end of 2013, there was an average of one foreign domestic worker to every eight households overall.[10] In households with children, the ratio is one for every three. Foreign domestic helpers comprise approximately 10% of the working population.[10] In December 2014, the number of migrant workers employed as helpers stood at over 330,000, representing 4.6% of the overall population; the vast majority of the migrant workers were female.[1]

Prior to the 1980s, and before the increased prosperity on the mainland, Chinese domestic workers dominated.[10] Until the 1990s, workers mostly came from the Philippines; since then, to cope with the different demands of prospective employers, the percentages have been shifting away from Philippine workers, in favour of Indonesian and other nationalities. In the 1990s, Indonesia and Thailand followed the Philippines' model of labour export to deal with an increasing economic crisis at home, and Hong Kong families began hiring workers from these two countries as well.[14] The supply of Indonesians provided competition as these workers were often prepared to accept half of what was due according to the Minimum Allowable Wage.[10]

In 1998, according to the Immigration Department, there were 140,357 Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong compared to 31,762 from Indonesia.[16] In 2005, official figures showed there were 223,394 "foreign domestic helpers" in the territory; 53.11% were from the Philippines, 43.15% from Indonesia, and 2.05% from Thailand.[17] In 2010, the respective numbers were 136,723 from the Philippines (48%), 140,720 from Indonesia (49.4%), 3,744 from Thailand (1.3%), 893 Sri Lankans, 568 Nepalese, and 2,253 of other nationalities. Vietnamese are not permitted to work in Hong Kong as domestic workers due to what authorities say are "security reasons", which one lawmaker said were linked to historical problems with Vietnamese refugees[16]

Experiments to bring in workers from Myanmar and Bangladesh to feed the demand have been a failure.[18] Since coming to power, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has been reported as saying he considers the export of labour in this manner as a national embarrassment, and pledged that his government will end the practice.[19][20] In February 2015, there were 331,989 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, of which 166,743 were from the Philippines. Their numbers represented a year-on-year increase of 7,000, while the number of Indonesians remained static.[18]

Recruitment[edit]

Recruitment of foreign domestic workers for the most part takes place through a large number of specialised agencies. Local firms have tie-ups with correspondents in the workers' home countries.[21] Agencies are remunerated by fees collected from both the employers and workers, and are regulated according to Employment Ordinance and the Employment Agency Regulations.[1][22] Local agencies dealing with workers from the Philippines require accreditation from the Philippine Consulate.[23] While there are no such requirements for Filipino workers, a potential employer is obliged to go through an agent in the case of Indonesian workers.[1][21][24] While agency fees are regulated by law to 10% of one month's salary, some agencies in the workers' own countries charge commissions and other fees ostensibly for training that the workers need to work for months to pay off.[24][25] The Philippine government outlawed commissions in 2006, thus employment agencies may only charge fees.[26]

Employment regulations[edit]

A sample of the first page of a standard employment contract for a foreign domestic helper

The Hong Kong government has drawn up rules and regulations specifically regarding the employment, labour, and condition of stay of foreign domestic helpers. Since 2003, all foreign domestic helpers are required by law to be live-in.[10] An employer and an employee are required to enter into a two-year standard contract specifically for the employment of foreign domestic helpers.[9] A few notable regulations regarding the employment of foreign domestic helpers include:[27]

Employers' requirements and obligations
  • a household income of at least HK$15,000 (US$1,920) per month for each foreign domestic helper employed;
  • a levy of HK$9,600 for employing a foreign domestic helper, for the duration of a 2-year contract,[27] abolished wef 31 July 2013
  • provide free medical treatment for the foreign domestic helper;
  • payment of a monthly salary of no less than the minimum allowable wage set by the government.
Helpers' rights and obligations
  • required to only perform the domestic duties outlined in the employment contract.
  • not allowed or required to take up any other employment with any other employer during the effective period of the contract;[27]
  • required to work and live in the employer's place of residence, and to be provided with suitable living accommodation with reasonable privacy;[27]
  • entitled to one "rest day" every week, with the rest day being a continuous period of not less than 24 hours.[27]

Minimum allowable wage[edit]

Foreign domestic workers' wages are subject to a statutory minimum, the breach of which is sanctionable under the Employment Ordinance. An employer convicted of paying below the "minimum allowable wage" (MAW) is liable to a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and three years' imprisonment.[28]

Helpers' minimum wages are inflation-adjusted annually for contracts about to be signed, and apply for the duration of the contract. Notably, they were reduced by HK$190 (5%) in 1999.[29] Again in April 2003, in a deflationary environment, the Government announced a HK$400 reduction in pay, to HK$3,270, "due to the steady drop in a basket of economic indicators since 1999."[30] The minimum allowable wage was raised by HK$80 to HK$3,480 per month for contracts signed on or after 6 June 2007.[31] Another HK$100 cost of living adjustment took effect for all employment contracts signed on or after 10 July 2008, increasing the minimum wage to HK$3,580 per month.[28] The minimum allowable wage has been set to HK$3,740 per month since 2 June 2011,[32] and raised to HK$3,920 per month for contracts signed from 20 September 2012 onwards.[33]

The MAW has come under criticism from workers' and welfare groups as making FDWs second class citizens because the statutory minimum wage does not apply to them – while the MAW is at HK$3,920, a local worker working a 48-hour week would earn HK$6,240 if paid at the minimum hourly wage of HK$30 (pay rate to 30 March 2015).[1][10][34] The International Domestic Workers Federation has also complained that the MAW level rose by 3.9%, or HK$150, and has thus failed to keep pace with Hong Kong's median monthly income, which rose over 15% between 1998 and 2012.[10] However, as Hong Kong is a benchmark for the market for migrant workers in Asia, there is pressure for wages to remain low.[10] Furthermore, wages were kept in check by competition from workers from Indonesia who started arriving in large numbers in the 1990s. Since then, it is the turn of workers from other Asian countries like Bangladesh and Nepal to be prepared to work for less than the minimum allowable wage.[10]

Employees' Retraining Levy[edit]

In October 2003, the Hong Kong government imposed a HK$400 monthly Employees' Retraining Levy for hiring a foreign domestic helper under the Employees Retraining Ordinance when the economy was in a recession. The levy was initiated by the Liberal Party in 2002 as one means of tackling the fiscal deficit.[35] It was unveiled by Donald Tsang while he was Chief Secretary for Administration as part of population policy.[36] Tsang declared on one hand that foreign and local domestic workers were two distinct markets, yet he declared that "employers of foreign domestic helpers should play a role in helping Hong Kong in... upgrading the local workforce."[37]

Government Policy Support & Strategic Planning said the levy would be used for the training and retraining of the local workforce, to enhance their employment opportunities.[30] The government said the extension of the levy to include domestic helpers would remove the disparity between imported workers.[38] The Standard said that some sections hoped that fewer foreign maids would be employed in Hong Kong as a result. The senate of the Philippines disagreed with the government, denounced the levy as "discriminatory", and hinted that it would take the issue to the International Labour Organisation. Senate president Franklin Drilon said that levy on domestic workers went against Hong Kong's free-market principles and would damage its reputation for openness to foreign trade, investment and services.[39]

Earlier that year, the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers was lowered by the same amount, although the government said the reduction in the minimum wage and imposition of the levy at the same time were "unrelated".[30] Lawyers representing the government said that the moves were an "unfortunate coincidence".[35] The measure was expected to bring in HK$150 million annually into government coffers. Government Policy Support & Strategic Planning said the levy would be used for the training and retraining of the local workforce, to enhance their employment opportunities.[30]

Thousands of workers protested against measures, who feared the financial burden would be passed on to workers.[29] The government defended the measures as necessary to adjust to Hong Kong's economic woes, and stated that even with the measures, foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong were still better paid than foreign domestic workers working in other Asian countries. James Tien said the monthly wage of Filipina maids in Singapore was about HK$1,400, in Malaysia it was HK$1,130.[35]

In 2004, a legal challenge was mounted asserting that the levy imposed on employers was unlawful and constituted a discriminatory tax. In January 2005, High Court Justice Michael Hartmann ruled that since the levy was instituted under a statutory scheme, it was not a tax but a fee charged for the privilege of employing non-local workers who would not otherwise have permission to work in Hong Kong.[40] In 2007, the Liberal Party urged the government to abolish the employees retraining levy as a part of its District Councils election platform, saying that the HK$3.26 billion fund should be used as originally intended: in other words, to train and retrain employees.[41] In August 2008, regular South China Morning Post columnist Chris Yeung noted that the case for retaining the levy over the years has become increasingly weak morally and financially: "Middle class people feel a sense of injustice about the levy."[3] Regina Ip agreed that the levy had lost its raison d'être.[42]

In 2013, the government announced the formal abolition of the levy in the Chief Executive's policy address, effective 31 July 2013.[19]

Employees' Retraining Levy waiver controversy[edit]

As part of the "extraordinary measures for extraordinary times" totalling HK$11 billion announced by Donald Tsang on 16 July 2008,[3] the levy would be temporarily waived,[43] at an estimated cost of HK$2 billion.[3] The measures were mockingly referred to in the Chinese press as 派糖—handing out candy.[44]

It was announced that the levy would be waived for a two-year period on all helpers' employment contracts signed on or after 1 September 2008, and would not apply to ongoing contracts. The Immigration Department said it would not reimburse levies, which are prepaid half-yearly. The announcement resulted in chaos and confusion, and uncertainty for the workers.[45] Chris Yeung said that the exemption was a "gimmick dressed up as an economic relief initiative, designed to boost the administration's popularity"[3] in advance of Tsang's forthcoming policy address, in October.[37]

Maids' representatives said that when the waiver was announced, the guidelines were unclear and had no implementation date. Employers deferred contracts or had dismissed workers pending confirmation of the effective date, leaving workers in limbo. They protested about the uncertainty, and also demanded an increase in their minimum wage to HK$4,000.[46] Employers had reportedly started terminating their helpers' contracts, sparking fears of mass-terminations. On 20 July, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung announced the waiver commencement date would be brought forward by one month. The Immigration Department had also temporary relaxed its 14-day re-employment requirement for helpers whose contracts expired.[47]

On 30 July, the Executive Council approved the suspension of the levy for two years from 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2010. After widespread criticism of the situation, the government said maids having advanced renewal of contract would not be required to leave Hong Kong through the discretion exercised by the Director of Immigration, and employers would benefit from the waiver simply by renewing the contract within the two-year period. The government also admitted that some employers could benefit from the waiver for up to 4 years.[48] This effect of turning a 2-year moratorium into 4-year suspension potentially doubles the estimated give-away, and was denounced by the newspaper editorials of all allegiances.[3] The levy was criticised as "farcical" in an editorial in the South China Morning Post.[49] Stephen Vines wrote that "the plan for a two-year suspension of the levy... provides an almost perfect example of government dysfunction and arrogance,"[50] while Albert Cheng said the controversy exposed "worst side of our government bureaucracy"[51] Columnist Frank Ching criticised senior officials for living in their ivory towers, and said that there would have been no disruption if the government had suspended payment immediately and refunded those who had prepaid.[37] Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor called for the levy's permanent abolition, saying that the temporary two-year waiver was discriminatory. It criticised the confusion and inconvenience caused to employers and the Immigration Department because the policy had not been thought through properly.[52]

Corollary[edit]

Foreign domestic workers queuing at counters at the Immigration Department in Wan Chai in late August 2008

On the morning of 1 August, the Immigration Department gave out 2,180 passes to workers and agents to collect their visas and submit applications to work in Hong Kong, and undertook to handle all applications submitted. Offices opened one hour earlier than usual, added staff and extended its office hours, to guarantee all 2,180 cases would be processed.[53] Similarly, the Philippine consulate expected to cope with a huge workload as a result of the rehiring provisions.[54] Chinese newspapers published articles calculating how households could maximise their benefits under the waiver rules. There were street protests on 3 August decrying the waiver's unfairness and its administrative burden on the Immigration Department. One protester said that the waiver would only teach households how to use legal loopholes.[42]

The West Kowloon Immigration office in Yau Ma Tei processed 5,000 advance contract renewals, in addition to 7,400 contract renewals during the month of August 2008. Despite the availability of online booking for slots at its 5 branch offices, the daily quota imposed on the number of applications being processed have resulted in daily overnight queues. Touts in Yau Ma Tei have been illegally selling positions in the waiting line for up to HK$120.[55]

Legislative Council debate on suspension[edit]

The government is required to move an amendment in the Legislative Council (LegCo) to suspend the levy in accordance with the Executive Council decision. Faced with calls to abolish the levy, the government was adamant that the levy would not be scrapped. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare said the HK$5 billion fund would only support the work of the Employment Retraining Board for four to five years if the levy was permanently waived.[56]

Regina Ip has started a campaign to abolish the levy and tabled an amendment at LegCo. The government has declared it would attempt to rule it out of order on the grounds that it would breach rule 31(1) of the Rules of Procedures, which prohibit amendments which have an impact on government revenue.[57] Ip challenged the inconsistency of this stance with the 2005 decision in the High Court that the ERL was not a tax. The government also hinted that a bill to abolish would breach Article 74 of the Hong Kong Basic Law,[58] and threatened it would take Article 74 to the central government for interpretation. Legislators and commentators said this was a 'nuclear bomb'. A Hong Kong University academic said that reinterpretation would be "totally disproportionate... route to resolve this dispute."[59]

Under pressure from legislators, the government, through the Executive Council, agreed to extend suspension of the levy from two to five years. The amendment for the five-year suspension, one of several proposed amendments to the Employees Retraining Ordinance Notice 2008, was tabled by the DAB, and would apply to first-time and renewed contracts and visas issued between 1 August 2008 and 31 July 2013.[60]

Grievances[edit]

Foreign domestic workers and their supporters, including activists and employers alike, have periodically staged rallies against what they perceive to be discriminatory treatment on the part of the Hong Kong government. Major grievances include discrimination, the minimum wage, and the two-week stay limit at the end of a domestic worker's employment contract. According to the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM), foreign domestic helpers face discrimination from both the Hong Kong government and their employers.[61]

In 2013, Amnesty International published a report about Indonesian migrant domestic workers suggesting that they may be victims of serious human and labour rights violations in Hong Kong, and that some regulations actually make the problem worse. Abuses noted by Amnesty International include having their travel documents taken away, not having their own private space, not being paid the Minimum Allowable Wage, being "on call" at all hours. Many are subjected to physical and verbal abuse by their employers, and are made to work seven days a week.[62][63]

Systemic exploitation[edit]

Many migrant workers have only a rudimentary education, little knowledge of the law and their rights, and leave home to support their families. En route, many fall victim to agents – both official and official – unscrupulous officials, and the lack of proper legal protection at home and in their host countries. The debts they incur to secure employment overseas can mean they are locked in a cycle of abuse and exploitation.[20]

There is also criticism in the Philippines that is one of the biggest human traffickers amongst ASEAN countries. Alejandro Del Rosario, writing in the Manila Standard, criticised the government for continuing its 1960s policy of labour export instead of focussing on domestic production and job creation, and allowing the program to expand thereby contributing to the brain drain.[19] Amnesty International suggested that lack of proper supervision allows criminal syndicates to profit from foreign workers who are often not even aware of their legal entitlements in their host countries.[25] A report in 2013 entitled "Exploited For Profit, Failed By Governments – Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers Trafficked To Hong Kong" alleges many of the Indonesians are victims of forced human trafficking.[64] It also found fault with both the Indonesian and Hong Kong governments for having "failed to take adequate action to enforce domestic legislation in their own territories which could have protected migrant workers from trafficking, exploitation and forced labour... In particular, they have not properly monitored, regulated or punished recruitment and placement agencies who are not complying with the law."[64]

In 2014 and 2015, a number of incidents involving the ill-treatment of workers surfaced which indicated that employment agencies often neglect the rights of workers at best, while some may even be complicit in the cycle of abuse; there have also been many instances of failure to provide proper service to workers' employers. The media revealed that, between 2009 and 2012, the Consumer Council in Hong Kong received close to 800 complaints against agencies. Many were faulted for workers that simply did not match the descriptions provided, to the extent that some suspected that the employment agencies had deliberately misrepresented the workers' experience.[22] The death in 2015 of Elis Kurniasih, a worker who was awaiting her work visa prior to commencing employment, exposed grey areas in the Employment Agency Regulations and legal loopholes.[22][65] Kurniasih died as a result of being crushed by falling masonry at an agency boarding house in North Point.[1][66] The protection of workers over issues such as illegal fees, unsanitary accommodation, lack of proper insurance coverage were criticised as inadequate.[22][65]

Right of abode[edit]

Under the Immigration Ordinance, a foreigner may be eligible to apply for permanent residency after having "ordinarily resided" in Hong Kong for seven continuous years, and thus enjoy the right of abode in Hong Kong.[67] However, the definition of "ordinary residency" excludes, amongst other groups, those who had resided in the territory as foreign domestic helpers,[68] thus effectively denying them the rights of permanent residents, including the right to vote, even if they had resided in Hong Kong for many years.[61] Specifically, since 1997, section 2(4) of the Immigration Ordinance states that "a person shall not be treated as ordinarily resident in Hong Kong while employed as a domestic helper who is from outside Hong Kong".[69] In 2011, there were debates that foreign workers can apply for Hong Kong residency, as there are already one million underprivileged families who live under the poverty line in Hong Kong society, some political parties argue Hong Kong does not have sufficient welfare funding to support the 300,000 foreign workers if they can settle in Hong Kong and apply for public housing and social welfare benefits. The Court of First Instance found in Vallejos v. Commissioner of Registration that this definition of "ordinarily resident" contravened Article 24 of the Basic Law. The latter stipulates that "Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region". This gave rise to early speculation that helpers could gain right of abode.[70] An appeal was launched to the Court of Appeal of the High Court which overturned the judgment of the Court of First Instance. The plaintiffs subsequently launched an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal which ruled against them by a unanimous judgment.

Two-week rule[edit]

The government requires foreign domestic helpers to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of the termination of their employment contract unless they find employment with another employer ("two-week rule").[27] The HKHRM claimed that this is a form of discrimination against foreign domestic helpers, who are almost all Southeast Asian, as the same limitation is not enforced for other foreign workers.[61] This two-week rule has been condemned by two United Nations Committees: the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[71]

According to human rights groups, the two-week rule may pressure them to remain with abusive employers.[61][72] To that extent, the rule attracted attention of more than one body in the United Nations. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2005 urged the government to "review the existing 'two-week rule'... and to improving the legal protection and benefits for foreign domestic workers so that they are in line with those afforded to local workers, particularly with regard to wages and retirement benefits."[73] In 2006, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women similarly called on the government to "repeal the 'two-week rule' and to implement a more flexible policy regarding foreign domestic workers. It also calls upon the state party to strengthen its control of employment agencies and to provide migrant workers with easily accessible avenues of redress against abuse by employers and permit them to stay in the country while seeking redress."[74] It, and the live-in rule, was criticised by UN Human Right Committee in 2013.[64]

Abuse by employers[edit]

The Hong Kong government has enacted legislation to nominally protect these migrant workers, but recourse is timely and the costs are considerable.[10] Thus many are deterred to take action as the legal process can take up to 15 months to reach the District Court or Labour Tribunal, during which time they have no income yet incur living expenses.[71]

Welfare groups have long expressed concern for the treatment of this segment of the Hong Kong workforce, and one high-profile case of abuse of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih in 2014 which made international news headlines brought focus on the plight of foreign workers in Hong Kong.[10][25] Thousands took to street protests demanding justice for Erwiana.[62] Although the government regards Erwiana as an isolated case, welfare groups assert that many workers are turned into victims of "modern-day slavery" and abuse by employers through the system.[10][75] The HKHRM also reports that workers had been mistreated by their employers: out of 2,500 interviewed, at least 25% had claimed to have experienced violations of their contract, including being paid under the minimum allowable wage amount, not being allowed their mandatory weekly day of rest, and not being allowed to take their statutory holidays. Also, more than 25% had experienced physical and verbal abuse, including a "significant incidence" of sexual abuses.[61] Caritas said that their Asian Migrant Worker Social Service Project helpline received over four thousand calls from workers, of which 53 were given assistance to stay in Hong Kong to pursue their claims.[71][76][77][78] Executive director of an NGO for domestic workers said suggests that reported abuse was on the rise – their Bethune House shelter had dealt with 7,000 cases of alleged abuse in the first three-quarters of 2013, compared with 3,000 for all of 2012.[10]

Factors cited as contributing to include the "artificially low wages" and the live-in requirement.[10][21] Many incur significant debts to intermediaries for their commissions – it is public knowledge that to pay their share of the agency commission, many workers have to hand over significant proportion of their wages for the first six to twelve months although such commissions are by law limited to 10% of the first month's pay.[10][21][25][34] Furthermore, the facility with which they may be deported compared with the difficulty of finding employment abroad deters foreign workers from reporting violations of their rights or instances of discrimination against them.

Live-in requirement[edit]

As the workers are required to live with their employers, they are vulnerable to working long hours because they are practically on call 24 hours a day; Amnesty International and welfare groups say that some workers are routinely made to work 16 to 18 hours daily.[1][10] Also they have no refuge from abuse should it occur.[1][10][21]

Philippine government policy[edit]

Filipino workers have also protested against policies of the Philippine government that targeted overseas Filipino workers. In particular, one protest in 1982 was held in opposition of Executive Order No. 857 (EO-857), implemented by dictator Ferdinand Marcos. EO-857 stipulated that overseas contract workers must remit 50% to 70% of their total earnings, and remittances were only allowed to be transferred through authorised government channels.[79] According to migrant workers groups, overseas Filipino workers are each faced with paying up to PHP150,000 ($3,400) in the government and recruitment agencies' fees even before they can leave the country.[34] In 2007, the Philippine government proposed a law that workers be required to undergo a "competency training and assessment program" that would cost them PHP10,000 to P15,000 (US$215 to US$320) – about half of their average monthly salary (typically US$450). The Philippine Department of Labor and Employment argued that the policy would help protect domestic overseas workers from abuse by their employers.[80] Government bureaucracies earn a total of about PHP21 billion ($470 million) a year from foreign workers – in the name of police clearances, the National Bureau of Investigation, passports, membership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, contributions to local health insurance, Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, and Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund.[34] Fees and charges by Indonesian agencies for dormitory housing, lessons in Cantonese, housework and Chinese cuisine were capped at about HK$14,000 by their government in 2012, but interest is excluded from the cap.[26] In 2012, Bloomberg reporters suggested that many such agencies enter into contract with workers on their books to convert sums owed for these charges incurred prior to them arriving in Hong Kong into "advances" involving moneylenders and bypassing Hong Kong law.[1][26]

Hong Kong Government stance[edit]

According to Time, the two-week rule and the live-in requirement protect Hong Kong employers of foreign worker. The government argues that the 'two-week rule' is required for maintaining effective immigration control, preventing job-hopping and imported workers working illegally after the termination of contracts. However, it does not preclude the workers concerned from working in Hong Kong again after returning to their place of domicile."[81] The government implies that in the absence of these rules, opportunistic maids can easily leave employers they are not satisfied with, creating the disruption of having to find a new helper and incurring an additional fees for new contracts.[24] In early 2014, the government moved to further impede labour mobility by no longer renewing visas of workers who have changed employers more than three times in a year.[10]

The government regards the Erwiana case as an isolated one, and the labour minister pledged to step up regulation, enforcement action and inspections of employment agencies to stop the abuse.[21][62][75] To that end, it has conducted a number of raids against migrant workers accused of not living at their employers' residences.[82][83] However, Robert Godden of Amnesty Asia-Pacific said: "the specifics many of the factors leading to the abuse [of Erwiana] can be applied to thousands of migrant domestic workers: underpayment, restrictions on movement; you can see that she was heavily indebted by the illegal recruitment fees charged by the agency; and you can see that she didn't know how to access justice."[62] In another rare move, in 2014 the Labour Department in Hong Kong initiated prosecution of another employer, who had allegedly abused Rowena Uychiat during her nine-month period of employment.[84]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bong Miquiabas (31 March 2015). "After Another Nightmare Surfaces in Hong Kong's Domestic Worker Community, Will Anything Change?". Forbes. 
  2. ^ "Hong Kong Court Denies Residency to Domestic Workers". Time. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Chris Yeung (3 August 2008). "HK needs better leadership, Mr Tsang". South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). pp. A10. 
  4. ^ "Hong Kong woman guilty in Indonesian maid abuse case". Associated Press. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  5. ^ Catherine W. Ng (October 2001). "Is there a need for race discrimination legislation in Hong Kong?" (PDF). Centre for Social Policy Studies, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. pp. 24–26. Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  6. ^ 輸入勞工: 外籍家庭傭工 (in Chinese). Labour Department of HKSAR. 5 January 2007. Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  7. ^ 從香港以外地區聘用家庭傭工的僱傭合約 (in Chinese). Immigration Department of HKSAR. 14 February 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  8. ^ "Importation of Labour: Foreign Domestic Helpers". Labour Department of HKSAR. 5 June 2007. Retrieved 26 June 2007. 
  9. ^ a b "Employment Contract for a Domestic Helper Recruited from Outside Hong Kong". Immigration Department of HKSAR. 14 February 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
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