Date
20 July 2018
Consumer Council chief Gilly Wong (inset, right) says there have been many cases that suggest that some agencies are too lax in the verification process for domestic helpers coming to work in Hong Kong. Photos: HKEJ, Internet
Consumer Council chief Gilly Wong (inset, right) says there have been many cases that suggest that some agencies are too lax in the verification process for domestic helpers coming to work in Hong Kong. Photos: HKEJ, Internet

Foreign maid agencies must fix service deficiencies: watchdog

Employment agencies that help local families recruit foreign domestic helpers need to do a much better job, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog said on Thursday, pointing to multiple deficiencies in the agency services.

Unveiling the findings of a survey, the Consumer Council said it is concerned about several issues in relation to recruitment of domestic workers, including inadequate background checks on jobseekers and non-uniform and discriminatory pricing for the services. 

The watchdog said it sent questionnaires to 48 domestic helper intermediary agencies out of the total of 1,400 such firms in the city, inquiring about their scale of charges, scope of service and related topics.

Among those selected, 33 agencies chose to respond, according to a press release.  

The results showed that 29 among the respondents mainly depend on their overseas partners to check the foreign domestic helpers’ qualifications and work experience, while one agency admitted that it does not verify any such information at all.

There were also several other issues.

In one case, the Council said it found that an agency promised a man that an Indonesian maid could begin working for him in April after he paid HK$9,980 in January, but the maid did not show up on the first working day.

The agency did not explain why but only said it could not find the maid, nor did it introduce him a replacement, causing the man to go through a lot of trouble before he was refunded.

In another case, a woman asked an agency to help find a foreign maid to take care of an ill elderly person in her family, with the requirement that the maid must be able to communicate in Cantonese or Putonghua.

But, as it turned out, the maid introduced by the agency could only speak a few words in Putonghua. The employer sought a replacement, but the request was turned down by the agency, which also refused to give her a refund.

The watchdog undertook the survey after it received 163 complaints of unsatisfactory service by domestic helper recruitment agencies in the first ten months of this year, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

There are currently more than 350,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, with the majority of them from the Philippines. 

Consumer Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said there were many cases that suggested that some agencies were too lax in the verification process.

The agencies should not shirk their responsibility, or tell the consumers to sort out problems on their own after disputes emerge on the maids post-employment, she said.

Some intermediary agencies were found to include in the recruitment contracts exemption clauses so that they would not be held responsible for the accuracy of the claims of the domestic helpers.

Wong warned that such exemption clauses may not fully absolve the legal obligations of the agency.

In addition, the Council also found employment agencies’ recruitment charges vary a lot depending on the nationality of the maid.

The biggest price discrepancy was found on those new workers from Bangladesh, with the fees charged ranging from HK$4,680 to HK$10,500, a differential of up to 1.2 times.

For new Filipino and Indonesian maids, the fee range differential was 54 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

The watchdog reminded people employing foreign domestic helpers to do several things when picking an agency, including ascertaining if it holds an employment agency license and a business accreditation certificate issued by the consulate general concerned.

Also, the contracts should be read carefully to ensure strict adherence to the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies set by the Labour Department.

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TL/JC/RC

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