HELPERS – Now Gov’t Makes it Near-Impossible for Domestic Maids to Quit or Escape Abuse 27


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.

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via The Telegraph

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.

via ABC Australia

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).

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via gendersociety.wordpress.com/

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.

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Kartika Puspitasari with her lawyer, via SCMP.

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.

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When does it become outright slavery? via France24

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.

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Bangladeshi maids prepare for work in HK, via clickittefaq.com

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.

 

Posts related to Hong Kong’s hidden poor; a city that is home to the widest poverty gap in the developed world…


  • SpikeHK

    I wouldn’t say “a meagre HK$3,920 per month” and infer that’s what they get. They also get room and meals, which under normal circumstances would put the total value of the contract at around $6k per month I’d say. Of course there are several levels of problems beyond that – the number of hours they work, the “rooms” some of them are given, crappy meals fed to some, and that some don’t really get their day off or holidays as they’re supposed to. I don’t know how this would effectively be monitored and the government seems to side with the employers in most instances, making it hard for a helper to complain or bring charges. I’d also add that one of the cruelest things, aside from denial of right of abode, is that if a maid loses her job she has two weeks to find a new one or has to leave – and this can apply to someone who has been here 10 or 20 or even 30 years – 2 weeks to leave the place that’s been their home for years. And it doesn’t appear to be an issue that anyone wants to tackle. It’s enormously unfair because it doesn’t even begin to recognize the important contribution they make to our economy,

    • Tom

      Cheers Spike – I agree and have attempted to touch on the 2-weeks rule above… I call the salary ‘meagre’ as living costs in HK are high, their wage has barely risen in years and around half of Hong Kongers live in some kind of subsidised accommodation anyway. Also, maids are specifically exempted from the minimum wage law.

      Watch this space for a wider campaign on this issue over the coming year – it’s time to change the culture and thinking re: domestic workers.

      • SpikeHK

        I’ll tell you the bit that I truly cannot comprehend. Maids have the keys to our home. They are left in charge of our possessions – and for most families they are left in charge of parents, children and pets. It has always seemed logical to me that if I’m going to trust someone with these precious “things,” then the happier they are, the better the job they’ll do for me. Plus I never lose sight of the fact that they have basically given up their own lives in order to earn money to give their families better lives. So the ill treatment given to maids (and I have no idea how widespread it is, if it’s 10% or 80%, I don’t know if anyone really knows) has just never made logical sense to me.

        • Andreas

          The number of helpers who are abused has been assessed by various humanitarian organizations like Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.

          The numbers I have read are around the following:
          – 25% of helpers have been verbally or physically abused.
          – 25% of helpers have been contractually abused, in other words either underpaid or not given legal days off, or both.
          – 6% of helpers have been sexually abused.

          Given that these number are collected through polling, I suppose there is some fudge factor. However even if we assume they are inflated by a significant margin, the statistics are sobering to say the least.

      • Mike

        Living costs in HK are high… But isn’t the point that they don’t have to worry about living costs? They’re fed and have a bed, and transport is pretty cheap in HK, so I don’t think that financially they do that badly. An office worker earns just over 11K a month and doesn’t get housing subsidy, his parents aren’t in HK either, after his rent and job-related travel, food and bills, he probably has less than 4k a month to do anything un-essential.

        I don’t think the wage is acceptable, by the way, in either case. But the minimum wage is 30$/hour (six 12-hour days for 4 weeks would give $8,600 @ $30/hr), I don’t think $4,000 inc. rent & food scrubs up that badly, especially when some (of course not all) live in decent areas in decent properties. This does gloss over the other issues, which I know exist, but financially in HK I think minimum wage is potentially worse.

  • SpikeHK

    I wouldn’t say “a meagre HK$3,920 per month” and infer that’s what they get. They also get room and meals, which under normal circumstances would put the total value of the contract at around $6k per month I’d say. Of course there are several levels of problems beyond that – the number of hours they work, the “rooms” some of them are given, crappy meals fed to some, and that some don’t really get their day off or holidays as they’re supposed to. I don’t know how this would effectively be monitored and the government seems to side with the employers in most instances, making it hard for a helper to complain or bring charges. I’d also add that one of the cruelest things, aside from denial of right of abode, is that if a maid loses her job she has two weeks to find a new one or has to leave – and this can apply to someone who has been here 10 or 20 or even 30 years – 2 weeks to leave the place that’s been their home for years. And it doesn’t appear to be an issue that anyone wants to tackle. It’s enormously unfair because it doesn’t even begin to recognize the important contribution they make to our economy,

    • Tom

      Cheers Spike – I agree and have attempted to touch on the 2-weeks rule above… I call the salary ‘meagre’ as living costs in HK are high, their wage has barely risen in years and around half of Hong Kongers live in some kind of subsidised accommodation anyway. Also, maids are specifically exempted from the minimum wage law.

      Watch this space for a wider campaign on this issue over the coming year – it’s time to change the culture and thinking re: domestic workers.

      • SpikeHK

        I’ll tell you the bit that I truly cannot comprehend. Maids have the keys to our home. They are left in charge of our possessions – and for most families they are left in charge of parents, children and pets. It has always seemed logical to me that if I’m going to trust someone with these precious “things,” then the happier they are, the better the job they’ll do for me. Plus I never lose sight of the fact that they have basically given up their own lives in order to earn money to give their families better lives. So the ill treatment given to maids (and I have no idea how widespread it is, if it’s 10% or 80%, I don’t know if anyone really knows) has just never made logical sense to me.

        • Andreas

          The number of helpers who are abused has been assessed by various humanitarian organizations like Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.

          The numbers I have read are around the following:
          – 25% of helpers have been verbally or physically abused.
          – 25% of helpers have been contractually abused, in other words either underpaid or not given legal days off, or both.
          – 6% of helpers have been sexually abused.

          Given that these number are collected through polling, I suppose there is some fudge factor. However even if we assume they are inflated by a significant margin, the statistics are sobering to say the least.

          ***

          On Tom’s point above, helpers are exempt from the minimum wage law, but they have their own minimum wage. Unfortunately the helper minimum wage has no verbiage regarding maximum working hours or overtime.

      • Mike

        Living costs in HK are high… But isn’t the point that they don’t have to worry about living costs? They’re fed and have a bed, and transport is pretty cheap in HK, so I don’t think that financially they do that badly. An office worker earns just over 11K a month and doesn’t get housing subsidy, his parents aren’t in HK either, after his rent and job-related travel, food and bills, he probably has less than 4k a month to do anything un-essential.

        I don’t think the wage is acceptable, by the way, in either case. But the minimum wage is 30$/hour (six 12-hour days for 4 weeks would give $8,600 @ $30/hr), I don’t think $4,000 inc. rent & food scrubs up that badly, especially when some (of course not all) live in decent areas in decent properties. This does gloss over the other issues, which I know exist, but financially in HK I think minimum wage is potentially worse.

        The alternative is to offer servants minimum wage, and price a room in the house accordingly (assuming this kind of subletting is okay, in rented property)? Then the servants have to search for their own cheaper accommodation (probably worse than what’s on offer in-house) and calculate transport costs. I think servants would end up with a worse quality of life in this case, although potentially have a few more $ to send home.

  • smog

    I agree absolutely about the 14 day rule (and that the “live in” rule is unnecessary), but not about the starting point of your article. Not all FDHs are the angels that you seem to wish them to be – there are plenty who are on the lookout for every scam they can find (and they are just as happy to scam their fellow FDHs as they are their employers). I have no problem with ImmD looking closely at FDHs who repeatedly resign quickly, not least since they also look closely at employers who get through an unusual number of helpers. I understand that they also take input from organisations like Helpers for Domestic Helpers on people who are unsuitable to employ FDHs.

    A far bigger issue for me is the connivance of ImmD in the blatant corruption of the officials from the home countries of the FDHs (particularly Indonesia) who make huge sums of money in cahoots with the agencies shipping women over. I see absolutely no reason why employees taking Domestic Helper positions should be required to pay kickbacks to their consulates and agents, or even that their consulates need to be aware that they are here if the DH chossing not to tell them. No other foreign employee applying for a visa needs to get permission and pay commission to their government.

  • smog

    I agree absolutely about the 14 day rule (and that the “live in” rule is unnecessary), but not about the starting point of your article. Not all FDHs are the angels that you seem to wish them to be – there are plenty who are on the lookout for every scam they can find (and they are just as happy to scam their fellow FDHs as they are their employers). I have no problem with ImmD looking closely at FDHs who repeatedly resign quickly, not least since they also look closely at employers who get through an unusual number of helpers. I understand that they also take input from organisations like Helpers for Domestic Helpers on people who are unsuitable to employ FDHs.

    A far bigger issue for me is the connivance of ImmD in the blatant corruption of the officials from the home countries of the FDHs (particularly Indonesia) who make huge sums of money in cahoots with the agencies shipping women over. I see absolutely no reason why employees taking Domestic Helper positions should be required to pay kickbacks to their consulates and agents, or even that their consulates need to be aware that they are here if the DH chossing not to tell them. No other foreign employee applying for a visa needs to get permission and pay commission to their government.

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  • Andreas

    The “living in” rule has advantages and disadvantages. The clear disadvantage is the potential for abuse. The main advantage is that helpers don’t have to rent their own accommodation in the stratospheric HK real estate market. Another is that they don’t have to travel to their jobs, and thus save both on transport costs and time.

    Ideally, helpers should be able to choose based on what an employer offers, and employers should be able to offer both options. However I fear that this would open up to new forms of abuse without ending the existing ones. How many employers wouldn’t pay minimum without compensating for the additional cost of living out? Would an abusive employer become less abusive because a helper lives out? How many employers don’t demand already that helpers work 16-18 hours a day; what happens when the helper now has to spend an hour traveling at each end of that? Would living in ratty boarding houses not expose helpers to (even more) unsanitary conditions, predatory landlords, thieves and so forth? I’m not saying living out shouldn’t exist. I’m saying it is not without disadvantages if nothing else changes.

    A live out proviso could only work if the government regulates rent allowances, as with the current food allowance. However given how endemic non-compliance with payment of the food allowance is today, one wonders if such regulation would really help.

    Helpers are under tremendous pressure from home to send money on a regular basis. This makes them vulnerable to abuse by employers who know the helper needs the job. One of the few real defenses helpers have is to be so good at their jobs that good employers feel compelled to seek them out as individuals and hire them, to keep them reasonably happy, and to pay them more than minimum. A tall order.

    • Tom

      Thanks for these comments. The consequences of relaxing the live-in rule are something we are discussing with coalition partners in the run up to launching the HK Helpers Campaign. International ILO standards state that ‘live-in’ should not be compulsory, though there is an argument for making it a ‘choice’… We’ll be listening to the NGOs and Unions for their take on this, as the campaign aims to amplify existing voices on the matter.

      • Andreas

        Sounds like a great initiative.

        Regardless of whether “live out” becomes legal, I think it is important that “helper rooms” be better regulated, with improved minimum standards. Current regulations state that a private room is preferred but not mandatory, that helpers should not be forced to share a room with an adult of the opposite sex, and that a “private space” should be given if there is no room. Unfortunately this “private space” is not further specified.

        The regulations are violated by many unfortunately. Many helpers sleep on fire escapes, under kitchen counters, in the living room (where they cannot lay out they bedding until everyone in the house is asleep), or the like. No privacy or decency. I once heard of a helper whose employers had cut out a hole in the exterior wall of the building so that the leg part of her “bed” stuck out of the building in a sort of sac made of cardboard and tape.

        My proposal for minimum standards would include a window (many helpers live in converted closets), air conditioning or a fan, length to allow a bed at least 180cm long and 75cm wide, electrical socket (with no charge for use), light, lockable room (or if no room lockable storage), decent bedding and 24-hour access to a toilet (yes even this must be regulated). I would love for all helpers to have their own room but I fear given average HK housing this is not currently a demand with any realistic chance of success.

  • Andreas

    The “living in” rule has advantages and disadvantages. The clear disadvantage is the potential for abuse. The main advantage is that helpers don’t have to rent their own accommodation in the stratospheric HK real estate market. Another is that they don’t have to travel to their jobs, and thus save both on transport costs and time.

    Ideally, helpers should be able to choose based on what an employer offers, and employers should be able to offer both options. However I fear that this would open up to new forms of abuse without ending the existing ones. How many employers wouldn’t pay minimum without compensating for the additional cost of living out? Would an abusive employer become less abusive because a helper lives out? How many employers don’t demand already that helpers work 16-18 hours a day; what happens when the helper now has to spend an hour traveling at each end of that? Would living in ratty boarding houses not expose helpers to (even more) unsanitary conditions, predatory landlords, thieves and so forth? I’m not saying living out shouldn’t exist. I’m saying it is not without disadvantages if nothing else changes.

    A live out proviso could only work if the government regulates rent allowances, as with the current food allowance. However given how endemic non-compliance with payment of the food allowance is today, one wonders if such regulation would really help.

    Helpers are under tremendous pressure from home to send money on a regular basis. This makes them vulnerable to abuse by employers who know the helper needs the job. One of the few real defenses helpers have is to be so good at their jobs that good employers feel compelled to seek them out as individuals and hire them, to keep them reasonably happy, and to pay them more than minimum. A tall order.

    • Tom

      Thanks for these comments. The consequences of relaxing the live-in rule are something we are discussing with coalition partners in the run up to launching the HK Helpers Campaign. International ILO standards state that ‘live-in’ should not be compulsory, though there is an argument for making it a ‘choice’… We’ll be listening to the NGOs and Unions for their take on this, as the campaign aims to amplify existing voices on the matter.

      • Andreas

        Sounds like a great initiative.

        Regardless of whether “live out” becomes legal, I think it is important that “helper rooms” be better regulated, with improved minimum standards. Current regulations state that a private room is preferred but not mandatory, that helpers should not be forced to share a room with an adult of the opposite sex, and that a “private space” should be given if there is no room. Unfortunately this “private space” is not further specified.

        The regulations are violated by many unfortunately. Many helpers sleep on fire escapes, under kitchen counters, in the living room (where they cannot lay out they bedding until everyone in the house is asleep), or the like. No privacy or decency. I once heard of a helper whose employers had cut out a hole in the exterior wall of the building so that the leg part of her “bed” stuck out of the building in a sort of sac made of cardboard and tape.

        My proposal for minimum standards would include a window (many helpers live in converted closets), air conditioning or a fan, length to allow a bed at least 180cm long and 75cm wide, electrical socket (with no charge for use), light, lockable room (or if no room lockable storage), decent bedding and 24-hour access to a toilet (yes even this must be regulated). I would love for all helpers to have their own room but I fear given average HK housing this is not currently a demand with any realistic chance of success.

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