Labour Secretary Stephen Sui: ‘Bill vs EAs to be filed soon’

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CONSUL-General Bernardita Catalla is joined by Labour and Welfare Secretary Stephen Sui (left) and Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung (right) during the diplomatic reception for the 119th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Philippine Independence.

HONG KONG’s Labour Department is  set to send to the Legislative Council a bill that will provide a basis for stiff fines and jail terms against erring employment agencies.

On the sidelines of the diplomatic reception for the celebration of the 119th Philippine Independence Day held on June 8 at the Conrad Hong Kong, Labour and Welfare Secretary Stephen Sui told
Hong Kong News the bill will be sent to the LegCo by the end of the week.

“It’s our plan to send the bill by the end of next week and then we will put this forward to the LegCo before the end of June,” Sui said.

He added that the increase of fines from the current $50,000 to $350,000 and imprisonment of up to three years would be “on a par” with the penalty for employers who delay payment of salaries under the Employment Ordinance.

On January 13, 2017, the LD promulgated the Code of Practice, 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-seekers’ and employers’ 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.

Hong Kong lawmakers had vowed support to proposals of a group of migrant domestic workers to legislate stiffer fines on employment agencies that overcharge job-seekers.

Shiella Grace Estrada, chairperson of the Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong, had said the group met with six Hong Kong lawmakers on Feb. 21 and discussed their proposals.

She said they have been meeting with members of the Legislative Council since January about these proposals.

Estrada said the group told the lawmakers the present maximum fine of $50,00o on erring agencies should be increased to between $350,000 and $500,000.

“Iyong $50,000 na current [fine], madali lang iyon sa mga agency. Iyong dalawang agency nga na dinala namin sa court last year $9,000 at $30,000 lang ang penalty, which the union finds very, very low. Kung baga, isang worker lang ang magbayad sa kanila noon,” she told Hong Kong News.

Another proposal of the group is for the LD to put more staff and resources to better monitor the compliance of employment agencies with the code.

“They promised us that they will (take up our proposals) in their meeting. Sabi din ng mga LegCo member na nakausap namin na gagawin nilang mailatag lahat ng proposal ng unyon,” Estrada said.

“At happy ako last night na noong nanonood kami [ng LegCo meeting] na lahat ng nakausap naming LegCo member ay binanggit ang lahat ng proposal ng unyon,” she added.

Estrada said this was also the first time Hong Kong government and lawmakers promised to look into the conditions of other migrant domestic workers besides Filipinos and Indonesians.

Meanwhile, for the bid of migrant domestic workers to increase the minimum allowable wage from the present $4,310 to $5,000, Sui said there were mechanisms to determine the appropriate adjustment.

Both Sui and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung also expressed their appreciation of the Filipino community’s contribution to Hong Kong.

In his message at the diplomatic reception, Cheung noted the 200,000-strong Filipinos in the city are a “huge asset”.

He said Hong Kong families have benefited from the services of Filipino domestic workers here.

Sui said he has a Filipino domestic worker who has been working for his family for over 20 years now.

“She’s one of our family members and we just want to give our highest gratitude to the Philippines and their nationals for their excellent contribution to Hong Kong families and for the economic development of Hong Kong,” he said.

Consul-General Bernardita Catalla, meanwhile, said the diplomatic reception was a “successful” event, noting that the people she wanted to see were present.

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