Govt rejects calls to scrap live-in rule for domestic workers

March 16, 2016 18:43
Labour Secretary Matthew Cheung (L) does not agree that the rule requiring foreign domestic workers to live with their employers should be scrapped. Photos: HKEJ, Robber Godden

The Hong Kong government has rejected calls to scrap a rule that requires migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in the city to live with their employers, reiterating a stance taken previously.

"It must be stressed that the importation of live-in foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to Hong Kong has been allowed primarily to meet the acute and long-standing shortage of full-time live-in domestic helpers in the local labor market," a government spokesman said.

"We do not have any serious shortage in the live-out domestic helper market," the spokesman said in a statement posted on the government website late Tuesday.

The spokesman could be deemed to be speaking on behalf of Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, who oversees worker-related issues in the current administration. 

The statement came shortly after a human rights organization released a report that suggested that one in six MDWs in Hong Kong are victims of forced labor.

A "live-in" requirement blurs the boundaries of work/home life and creates an environment for exploitation of the workers, Justice Centre Hong Kong said, calling for an amendment of the rule.

It suggested that MDWs should be free to decide for themselves whether to live with their employers or stay elsewhere.

Those who opt to live separately from the employers should receive appropriate housing allowance or salary commensurate with the cost of living in Hong Kong, the rights group said.

In its report, Justice Centre also urged the government to strengthen the regulations on employment agencies, some of which overcharge the domestic workers and bring a heavy debt burden on the migrants.

The financial burdens ultimately lead to a higher chance that MDWs will be in forced labor, it said.

Responding to the concerns, the government stressed that it attaches great importance to protecting the statutory rights of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world which grant statutory labor rights and benefits to FDHs, same as those enjoyed by local workers," it said in the statement.

"FDHs are offered additional protection through the government-prescribed Standard Employment Contract under which they can enjoy benefits like free food, free accommodation, free medical treatment and free passages to and from their home countries," the statement added.

It said it has been encouraging FDHs to file reports with authorities and act as prosecution witnesses if they have been abused or suspect that they are being exploited, through underpayment of wages, denial of statutory holidays, etc.

Authorities will thoroughly investigate all reported cases and promptly launch prosecution if there is sufficient evidence, it said.

On agency fee, the statement pointed out that employment agencies in Hong Kong are allowed to charge no more than 10 percent of the first month's salary of the FDHs.

Workers who believe they have been overcharged should file complaints with the Labor Department, the government said.

One in six domestic workers in HK in forced labor: study (March 15, 2016)

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