Labor unions are calling on the governments of Hong Kong and the Philippines to crack down on employment agencies that exploit domestic helpers from the Southeast Asian country by charging them outrageous fees for their deployment to the territory.
A study released on Sunday revealed that 84 percent of the Filipino maids deployed to Hong Kong were charged an average of HK$8,400 by recruitment agencies in their home country before they came to the city, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The study, based on interviews with 68 Filipino maids, was jointly conducted by the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) and the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong between October last year and June this year.
Of the respondents, 57 said they also paid fees to employment agencies in Hong Kong, while 40 of them were charged HK$11,321 on average, an amount that was deducted from their monthly pay for a period of six months.
The fees are clearly outrageous as they are 25 times the legal limit of HK$431, or 10 percent of their salary for the first month, the study said.
Phobsuk Gasing, who chairs FADWU, said the Labour Department had promised to investigate but found it difficult to prosecute overcharging agencies because no receipts were given for the payment of those excessive fees and prosecution required the cooperation of the maids’ employers.
In addition, most maids refrained from cooperating with authorities because they were afraid they might end up losing their jobs if they did so.
As such, only one in 10 indictments was successful, according to data provided by the unions.
Labour Party legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said Hong Kong agencies have been circumventing local regulations by claiming they only charge the high fees on behalf of their counterparts in the Philippines.
He suggested the government raise the penalty for agencies that violate the rules, from a fine of not more than HK$50,000 at present to a jail term.
In response to the study, a spokesman of the Labour Department said it has been conducting regular and surprise checks on employment agencies according to law, adding that it is preparing to issue a code of practice for them to follow, otherwise their licenses will be revoked, Apple Daily reported.
Also on Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said his office is set to hold a meeting with concerned parties on Monday to discuss the issue of maids being asked to clean windows at high-rise buildings, noting that the discussion will help in adding pertinent clauses to their employment contracts to prevent accidents resulting from such a task.
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