US report urges Hong Kong to enhance protection of foreign maids

July 28, 2015 17:51
Domestic helpers hold up signs that read "End Slavery" during a Labor Day rally in Hong Kong last year. Photo: Bloomberg

The United States is urging the Hong Kong government to increase protective services for vulnerable populations such as foreign domestic workers.

According to the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2015, more than 320,000 foreign domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma and Bangladesh work in Hong Kong.

Some of them become victims of forced labor in the private homes in which they are employed, said the report (p. 180), which was published on Monday.

Recruiters in the Philippines and Indonesia generally charge excessive job placement fees, which may lead to situations of debt bondage in Hong Kong.

Some domestic worker employment agencies in Hong Kong also charge fees in excess of the maximum allowed under Hong Kong law.

The accumulated debts sometimes amount to up to 80 percent of workers’ salaries for the first seven to eight months of employment.

Some workers are unwilling to report abusive employers for fear of losing their jobs and being unable to repay their debts.

"Domestic workers have also reported working 17-hour days, receiving less than minimum wage, experiencing physical or verbal abuse and confinement in the employer’s home, and not receiving a legally required weekly day-off,” the report said.

Labor officials conducted inspections of approximately 1,300 employment agencies but revoked the licenses of only three, despite non-government organization and media reports of employment agencies violating regulations by charging exorbitant recruitment fees, requiring domestic workers to make deposits as a guarantee to work and confiscating employees’ identification documents, it said.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement late on Monday that it is committed to protecting the rights of foreign domestic helpers in the territory.

"No acts of violence are tolerated in Hong Kong and all persons here are under the protection of our laws, law enforcement agencies and the judicial system,” it said.

The conviction of the former employer of a foreign domestic helper in 2015 testifies to the effectiveness of the city's law enforcement regime in protecting the rights of helpers, the statement said.

The government was referring to the case of Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whose former employer was jailed for six months for beating and starving her.

In the latest US State Department report, Hong Kong is classified under "tier 2" for human trafficking problems for the seventh year.

China is on "tier 2 watch list" while Taiwan is at "tier 1". The worst grade is tier 3.

HK woman who abused Indonesian maid jailed for six years (Feb. 27, 2015)

Group says Hong Kong should acknowledge human trafficking exists (July 3, 2015)

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