17 October 2018
Organizations representing foreign domestic maids are demanding new work safety laws after several fatal accidents involving window-cleaning work. Photo: HKEJ
Organizations representing foreign domestic maids are demanding new work safety laws after several fatal accidents involving window-cleaning work. Photo: HKEJ

New laws urged to protect maids after window-cleaning deaths

Hong Kong must put in place new laws to protect foreign domestic workers and ensure that the maids are not forced to do dangerous window-cleaning work, a non-governmental organization said.

Given the recent cases of domestic workers falling to their deaths while cleaning windows at high-rise buildings, the government needs to revisit the regulations related to work safety, according to the International Migrants Alliance (IMA). 

The government must provide legal protection for foreign domestic helpers to prevent abuse at the hands of the employers in relation to exterior window-cleaning, the migrants’ welfare body said.

If authorities fail to pass new legislation, the IMA plans to approach the consulates of foreign nations to put pressure on the government, Apple Daily reports.

Eni Lestari, an Indonesian national who chairs the alliance of foreign domestic helpers, was quoted as saying that Hong Kong can learn from Singapore and pass a law that specifies that a foreign domestic helper can clean the windows of high-rise apartments only with adequate safety measures.

Under that law, a person can clean high-rise windows only if there is an adult standing by to supervise the work. Also, the windows must have grills.

Terming such work as not being under a foreign maid’s job description in the first place, Lestari said the aim is not to ban foreign maids from cleaning such windows at all but to make sure that there are no more fatal accidents.

The comments came after several domestic helpers fell to their death while cleaning the exterior of windows in high-rise buildings in the city.

In a recent incident, a 35-year-old Filipino maid died in August after falling from a building in Tseung Kwan O.

Hundreds of foreign domestic helpers took to the streets in early September to ask the Hong Kong government to impose a ban on dangerous jobs such as cleaning high-rise windows.

In a notice sent to employment agencies in the territory on Oct. 1, the Philippine Consulate General demanded that a new clause be included in all employment contracts signed by Filipino domestic helpers from Oct. 15 stating that “for safety purposes, cleaning the exterior of windows is not part of the domestic helper’s duties”.

But it is said to have softened its position later after a meeting with Hong Kong officials.

Lestari said the union would talk to consulates of South Asian countries and ask them to require Hong Kong employers to sign written agreements in which they promise not to demand domestic helps clean the exterior of windows in high-rise buildings.

According to her, discussions with the Nepal and Thailand consulates have already been held over the issue and that talks with other consulates will follow next month, when there will also be a street demonstration.

In a response to the union’s suggestions, Tsui Hiu-tung, convenor of the Support Group of Hong Kong Employers with Foreign Domestic Helpers, said she agrees that occupational safety of foreign domestic helpers should be taken seriously.

However, it is unlikely that Hong Kong will follow the example of Singapore, she said, pointing out that the situation in the two places is quite different.

Tsui noted it is impractical to expect all windows in Hong Kong to be equipped with grills, given the peculiar housing infrastructure in the city.

She said she believes the Labour Department will deal with the issue fairly to ensure the well-being of foreign domestic helpers of different nationalities.

If no action is taken, the Philippine Consulate General might officially impose a ban starting from Nov. 14, she warned.

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