‘Employers should undergo training’
FIRST-TIME employers of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong should “undergo training” before they get a helper, according to a study which showed that FDWs are still paying excessive placement fees.
The Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union (FADWU) study, dubbed “Agents of Change: Assessing Hong Kong employment agencies compliance with the Code of Practice”, recommended that employers should be trained first on having migrant workers before they are allowed to employ FDWs.
“Require first-time employers of migrant domestic workers to undergo training, similar to the orientation programme used in Singapore,” the study said in its list of recommendations for the HK government.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower requires first-time employers and those who frequently change FDWs to attend an orientation programme to “understand their role and responsibilities as an employer” before they submit a work permit application for their migrant worker.
Shiella Grace Estrada, FADWU secretary, said their research showed that many HK employers of FDWs were unaware of how much a migrant should pay employment agencies.
“It turns out, based on the sessions that we had with employers, that they really don’t know about the excessive fees. Some employers also connive with employment agencies,” said Estrada, adding that some agencies allow employers to “try out” up to three FDWs.
“They just pay and leave everything up to the employment agencies. They don’t know how much FDWs are required to pay,” Estrada said.
She said a training program for employers would also be good in ensuring that they are informed about the culture of FDWs and on how to get along with their workers.
“In Singapore, before an employer can get a foreign domestic worker, they are required to attend the orientation programme which discusses the culture of FDWs and other topics to make sure they have a good relationship,” Estrada said.
“This is a good way for the worker to avoid any abusive situation, especially since it is mandatory for FDWs here in HK to live with their employers,” she added.
The FADWU study also urged the government to scrap the two-week rule, which allows FDWs to stay in HK only up to two weeks when they lose their job.
“The government should scrap this so that an FDW can pursue a complaint against any abusive employer or agency. So, the FADWU’s position is really for its abolition if the government wants to protect migrant workers in HK,” Estrada said.
She said that FADWU was also urging the government to “crackdown on human trafficking because more and more employers sign contracts with FDWs in HK but then bring them to the mainland.”
The FADWU study reported that 56 percent of its survey respondents paid illegal fees despite the implementation of the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies (CoP).
Under Hong Kong laws, employment agencies can charge only up to 10 percent of a domestic worker’s first month’s wages ($441 or 10 percent of the current minimum allowable wage of $4,410).
“Despite the CoP’s clear re-statement of existing legislation on agency fees, the current research shows that 56 percent of interviewees (253 out of the 450 who responded to this question) were charged illegal fees by employment agencies after their arrival in Hong Kong,” the study said.
“Furthermore, 30 percent of interviewees were also charged in advance of receiving their first month’s salary in contravention of the CoP.
The CoP stipulates that the 10 percent commission “shall only be charged after the job-seeker has received his/her first month’s wages” and so migrant domestic workers should not be charged in advance.
Recruiters that collect excessive fees are liable to a maximum fine of HK$350,000 and imprisonment for three years.
The study showed that, among the new FDWs, 57 percent were charged excessive fees by their HK agency.
“Out of this group, 132 interviewees paid through salary deduction. On average, they paid $9,013, more than 20 times the maximum chargeable agency fee, over 4.5 months,” the study said.
“The total fees ranged widely from $1,000 to $28,800. In addition, 112 interviewees paid an average of $1,151 upfront after their arrival in Hong Kong before starting their job or before receiving their first month’s salary,” it added.
The study said that 51 percent of those who changed employers also paid excessive fees “but the amount that they paid was generally significantly lower than the fees charged to new arrivals.”
“The majority of this group paid upfront an average of $1,682, while eight interviewees paid an average of $3,164 through salary deduction over a three-month period. Even the lower average fee charged to those paying upfront is still more than four times the maximum legally permitted fee,” it added.