28 October 2016
To ensure the quality of helpers, Candy Li works by referral only. “Decent helpers usually have decent friends,” she says. Photo: Candy Li
To ensure the quality of helpers, Candy Li works by referral only. “Decent helpers usually have decent friends,” she says. Photo: Candy Li

The chaotic but fulfilling life of a domestic helper agent

Hysterical employers, triads, screaming children, molesters and lawsuits are just a few of the problems Candy Li has dealt with since she launched her business three years ago.

When Li decided to go into the domestic helper market, her husband didn’t like the idea but she saw a future in it.

“Two-paycheck couples is the norm in Hong Kong. Who is going to take care of the kids? Grandparents are not always around to help,” Li says.

“Most people also hate household chores.”

Li thinks demand for helpers will always be there.

The business may sound simple but it takes a lot of guts and patience.

Li spent hours listening to a hysterical employer complain about the maid she hired.

Once, a helper suddenly disappeared and the employer demanded a refund.

When Li refused, the employer’s triad friend came to her office. She offered a partial refund but the client was not satisfied. The next thing she knew, she was the subject of a smear campaign on social media.

Li sued and she would later find out that the employer had been verbally abusing the maid.

In another instance, Li warned a client’s father to stop touching the bottom of their helper.

And when one helper got into trouble with her employer, she sued Li instead.

There have been other tough challenges but most had a happy ending.

To keep problems to a minimum, Li arranges for one final physical check before the helper depart for Hong Kong.

“Sometimes, we find at the last minute that the helper is sick or pregnant,” she says.

She also works by referrals only — existing helpers are encouraged to recommend friends and relatives.

“Decent helpers usually have decent friends. If there is a problem, it’s also easier to get them to sort it out themselves.”

On the client side, Li relies on word of mouth.

Existing clients, neighbors and her trade association are her main sources of supply.

Li often tells employers that there is no perfect maid. It all depends on the employer’s mentality and the way they train the helpers at the very beginning.

“A maid with working experience in Hong Kong is a plus, you don’t need to train them from zero,” she says.

“But someone with no experience is not necessarily bad. You have a blank sheet of paper to start with.”

Training is important. Employers must lay down the rules clearly from day one.

“If you want your meat in a certain way, show the helper the proper way to prepare it.”

If there is a need, Li would bring newcomers to her home for two days for crash training.

Employers sometimes complain their helpers are not smart enough and Li would tell them that if they were, they wouldn’t be helpers.

Li also gives tips to both sides to help them get along.

If helpers want their employers to cut them some slack, like allowing them to take a nap, they should make sure the tasks have been done — the baby is clean and fed, the flat tidy and the dog walked.

Employers are encouraged to give small gifts on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays and make sure their helpers get proper treatment and rest when they are sick.

Most problems can be solved with simple solutions, Li says.

If the helper is not good with numbers, Li would tell employers to ask her to bring a calculator when doing the groceries. 

The financial rewards aside, relationships are important to Li, which would explain why her company is called Good Friend Employment Ltd.

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Candy Li often hosts parties for domestic helpers in her office during holidays. Photo: Candy Li

EJ Insight writer

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