HK enacts law vs abusive employment agencies
The Hong Kong government has enacted into law a measure that imposed stiffer fines and jail terms against employment agencies and their officials who charge excessive fees on hapless migrants looking for domestic worker jobs in the city.
The law amended Part XII of the Employment Ordinance (EO) (Cap 57) and raised the maximum penalty for the offenses of overcharging job-seekers and unlicensed operation of EAs.
Hong Kong labor rules allow agencies to collect fees equivalent to 10 percent of the worker’s first monthly wage. The current minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers is $4,410.
Previously, violation of the rule incurred a maximum fine of $50,000. Under the new law, however, those charging job-seekers excessive fees could face a maximum fine of $350,000 and imprisonment of three years.
The law also expanded the scope of application of overcharging offense, and provide for new grounds for the Commissioner of Labour to consider refusing to issue or renew or revoking a license to operate an EA.
Likewise, the law provided a legal basis for the Code of Practice for EAs. In January 2017, the LD promulgated the CoP, which highlights the salient legislative requirements and sets out minimum standards for employment agencies.
These standards include maintaining transparency in business operations, drawing up service agreements with job-seekers and with employers, providing payment receipts, promoting job-seeker’s and employer’s awareness of their rights and obligations (including provision of sample wage receipt to facilitate FDHs and their employers for record-keeping or perusal as when necessary) and avoiding involvement in financial affairs of job-seekers.
The law against erring EAs and their agents became effective on Feb. 9.
While groups of migrant domestic workers considered the measure a victory, the next step for them is the monitoring and to ensure its enforcement.
“What we will do now is to monitor the enforcement and the implementation of the law,” said Shiella Grace Estrada, secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union and chairperson of the Progressive Labor Union.
The organizations were among those who pushed and lobbied for the measure at the Legislative Council.
She also noted that the approved bill gave migrant domestic workers a longer time to pursue cases against EAs. Previously, the measure proposed six months as the period when migrant domestic workers could file a case against an EA and its officers who charge excessive fees, but the approved measure extended the period to 12 months.
“This is still a win, although we were pushing for a 24-month period to file our cases,” Estrada added.
Eman Villanueva, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), also said the law has finally reflected the “criminal nature” of the practice of unscrupulous EAs to impose excessive fees on migrant domestic workers.
“Wine-welcome namin iyang amendment kasi una, nire-reflect niyan ang sentiment namin na dapat mas mabigat ang penalty. Also, ang isang malaking difference niyan I think, is the criminalization ng offense, na dati-rati pera lang na ibabayad nila as fine,” he said.
“Ngayon kasi mayroon nang imprisonment so iyong offense, naging criminal in nature kaya malaking bagay iyon,” Villanueva added.
He also said they want to see the seriousness of the Hong Kong government in the enforcement of the law.
“On the other hand, ang isang question diyan ay kung magiging effective ba ang enforcement. How serious is the government of Hong Kong in tracking down the illegal activities of the employment agencies,” Villanueva said.
“In any law, gaano man kaganda iyan pero kung may problema sa enforcement, passive lang at hindi pro-active ang approach, then magiging maganda lang iyan sa papel. Mawawalan siya ng kwenta dahil hindi siya nae-execute well at nae-enforce ang batas,” he added.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 11, women migrant workers from the AMCB launched an intensified campaign for wage increase, better working condition, and protection of their rights as workers.
These women danced and united in solidarity with women in the global One Billion Rising Revolution 2018 movement.
In a statement, the AMCB slammed the “measly” $100-increase in the minimum allowable wage of migrant domestic workers in the city.
“Considering the annual inflation rate and the increasing cost of living in Hong Kong that also impacts MDWs who spend for basic needs as food, transportation, communication and personal effects, the negligible wage hikes as compared to drastic cuts in the past “ do not even approximate what the lowest paid workers in Hong Kong should get as living wage,” the group said.
“The Hong Kong government has not only remained deaf to our wage problem. It has also refused to review and take effective actions to address the grave accommodation situation for MDWs,” it added.