In an attempt to combat the ‘non-problem’ of ‘job shopping’, the government has tightened rules to further entrap the city’s long-suffering domestic helpers. Last week, the Immigration Department responded to supposed ‘public concern‘, announcing that it will now make it harder for domestic workers to quit their contracts.
It has promised to ‘fortify‘ the assessment of helper’s visa applications to ‘closely scrutinise‘ those who have changed employers several times. The stricter measures against ‘premature contract termination’ mean that the Immigration Department can refuse further applications for employment if they suspect a helper of ‘non-compliance’ or ‘abuse’ of contract.
In the past two months, the government has refused 45 such visa applications under these measures. The only circumstances in which a domestic maid may be freely released from a contract include migration, death, a change in the financial situation of the employer or abuse/exploitation.
However, it is notoriously difficult for maids to prove they are being mistreated. Last month, it was reported that 58% of workers had faced verbal abuse, 18% had suffered physical abuse and 6% had been sexually abused.
Whilst the newly heightened scrutiny of workers benefit the middle-class families who depend on home help – the measures, in addition to the existing ‘two week rule’ discussed below – can entrap maids in abusive situations. Many domestic workers are also indebted by the agencies who recruited them in their home countries – making it very difficult for workers to quit prematurely to seek better conditions. Furthermore, the risk of deportation prevents many maids from reporting violations of their rights – the legal process can take up to 15 months to reach the District Court of Labour Tribunal (during which time, it is illegal to work).
Over the summer, a couple were arrested for allegedly abusing their Indonesian domestic maid, Kartika Puspitasari, in a case that made international news. Tying her to a chair and forcing her to wear diapers for days, Tai Chi-wai and Catherine Au Yuk-shan are accused of beating and humiliating Puspitasari. It is rare that such cases even make it to court – yet, despite evidence to the contrary – the maid has been accused of inflicting the injuries herself.
Domestic workers are not entitled to the minimum hourly wage in HK and cannot obtain permanent residency, no matter how many decades some have resided in the city. In March, HK’s top court ruled that helpers are not entitled to the permanent residency benefits open to all other foreigners in the local workforce.
The number of migrant domestic workers relocating to the city is on the increase. Recently, HK allowed Bangladeshi domestic workers to apply for work in the city, as reported in a bizarrely celebratory SCMP piece.
Maids receive a meagre HK$3,920 per month, are legally obliged to ‘live in’ and must leave the territory in order to begin contracts with new employers. Those who find themselves out of work must find a new employer within a fortnight or risk deportation. The ‘two week rule’ has been condemned internationally (even by the UN), mostly as it specifically targets Filipino and Indonesian workers.
Today’s coverage forms part of a series leading to the launch of a separate ‘HK Helpers Campaign’ – a coalition of NGOs and activists united to spark debate and effect change for Foreign Domestic Helpers.
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- Michael Wolf’s ‘Architecture of Density‘. See also 100×100.
- Political Art of Winnie Davies.
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