The Labour Department has set new measures to prevent accidents involving domestic helpers cleaning windows from high-rise buildings.
The new rules include the following: windows to be cleaned must have bars, an adult must be present while the maid is cleaning the exterior of windows, and no part of the cleaner’s body except the arms must be outside the window while it is being cleaned, Ming Pao Daily reports.
Labor department officials explained the new guidelines during a meeting with representatives of domestic helper employment agencies and workers’ unions on Wednesday.
The new arrangements were the result of meetings among concerned parties after the Philippine government had sought to ban window cleaning for Filipino maids.
Unions representing the domestic helpers welcomed the new measures but voiced concern that the new rules do not cover maids employed under old contracts.
Employment agencies said it would be superfluous to require an adult to survise the helper while windows are being cleaned, adding that it is difficult to monitor if such conditions are met.
Leo Tang Kin-wah, director of the Asian Home Workers Union, said the new measures will be part of the terms set on standard employment contracts for domestic helpers in the future.
Tang said the new measures are only effective in new or renewed contracts, which means that over 300,00 domestic helpers employed under old contracts will not be protected at the start of the new arrangements.
Tang also feared that there will be violations on the side of the employers.
At present, if a helper lodges a complaint, the labor department will only tell the employer to remedy the situaton by undertaking improvements.
The union hopes penalties such as fines could be put in place as a deterrent measure.
Leung Hing-ki, chairman of Hong Kong TKI Association Ltd., which represents the employment agencies, questioned the need to have an adult supervising the window cleaning if window bars are already installed.
Leung argues that the level of assistance a supervisor can provide would be very limited if he or she is an elderly.
However, Tang believes the government is keen to make the new measures mandatory before the end of this year or the start of next year, and that there is little room for modifications.
In terms of applicability, Leung believes all domestic helpers would be better protected by the new measures within the next two years as they renew their employment contracts.
Leung said employment agencies would contact insurance companies as soon as possible to discuss liability issues in the event of an accident.
Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, told Apple Daily that most employers would not put their domestic helpers in a dangerous environment at work, and that accidents could still take place even in the presence of a supervisor.
Villanueva suggested that domestic helpers should undergo better training before coming to Hong Kong to help them cope better with their work.
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