70% of employment agencies overcharge domestic helpers

May 11, 2017 15:26
By law, employment agencies are not allowed to charge more than 10 percent of a domestic helper's first month salary but most of them charge up to 13 times the legal limit. Photo: HKEJ

Seven in 10 Hong Kong employment agencies overcharge domestic helper commissions by up to 13 times the legal limit, according to a survey.

The undercover survey by Students Against Fees and Exploitation (SAFE) interviewed some volunteer domestic helpers and covered 100 recruitment agencies, news website hk01 reports.

It found that most employment agencies exploit domestic helpers with illegal fees and charges.

About 70 percent broke the law, either by overcharging domestic helpers or withholding their personal identity documents as collateral.

By law, they are not allowed to charge more than 10 percent of a domestic helper's first month salary.

However, most of them charge HK$6,000 to 8,000 in commission, 13 times the legal limit of HK$431 under the prevailing monthly salary of HK$4,310.

SAFE's Johnson Phan said the government has done nothing to fix the problem.

Some agencies would even ask employers to pay their helpers' salary directly to them, claiming the pay is supposed to be commission.

Such arrangements could put employers at risk of breaking the law without their knowledge, Phan said.

The survey involved volunteers who posed as domestic helpers looking for a job.

SAFE trained them to look credible and avoid raising the agencies' suspicions.

According to the Labour Department, there are about 1,300 licensed recruitment agencies in Hong Kong.

Of 5,503 investigations conducted by the department in the past five years, only 12 agencies were prosecuted, in 2016. Only 10 had their licenses revoked.

Phan said the number of abusive agencies could be higher and urged the government to take action immediately.

SAFE said employers should remain critical of the agencies.

Most agencies like to recommend newcomers to employers as they are less likely to make a fuss about the high commission.

SAFE said the Philippines and Indonesia are planning to cut the supply of domestic helpers to overseas countries.

With Hong Kong agencies charging unreasonable fees, helpers might opt for other places such as Taiwan, Singapore, or even China with better pay packages, it said.

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