LD makes assurance to FDHs: ‘Sue abusive employers, EAs’

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Filipino domestic helpers during their rest day in Hong Kong.

THERE is no need for a foreign domestic helper to return to their home country if they could provide evidence of being abused and exploited.

This was the assurance given by the Labour Department to officials of the Philippine Consulate and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in a recent Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting.

The assurance was made after Philippine officials brought up a sworn statement by a Filipino domestic helper who was made to clean the windows of the flat of her employer located at the fourth floor.

The Filipina initially refused, but the employer insisted, saying that the helper should comply with her order as she was boss. While cleaning the windows, the helper “slipped and hit the window grille before falling on the same floor which resulted in leg fracture.”

The Labour Department said the house of the employer met the requirements as the window being cleaned was fitted with a grille “which is locked or secured in a manner that prevents the grille from being opened.”

It added, however, that a helper can refuse to clean a window if safety is at risk. While the LD said they encourage helpers to file complaints against their employers, Philippine officials said many Filipinos have refused to take any action for fear of losing their jobs.

The LD responded that if a helper is terminated, they have 14 days to look for another employer.

“Those who are able to provide (pieces of) evidence of being abused and exploited are exempted from returning to the Philippines,” the report said.

The LD also requested Philippine officials to send a copy of the report on the window-cleaning incident for proper investigation.

It added that a legislation on window cleaning and other prohibited acts of agencies will be introduced in the second quarter of 2017.

Meanwhile, Labour Secretary Stephen Sui said Hong Kong Police were set to ramp up its information campaign to prevent foreign domestic helpers from falling prey to illegal debt collection activities.

“The Police will also continue to disseminate messages against improper debt collection practices through various channels and publicise successful enforcement actions and prosecution cases as deterrence,” Sui said in a written reply to a question by legislator Paul Tse about foreign domestic helpers being unable to pay debts, leading to their employers being subjected to harassment  of finance companies.

Tse made the inquiry following a police operation that led to the arrest of alleged members of a loan shark syndicate which had made loans amounting to about $10 million to foreign domestic helpers who were charged with interests as high as 120 percent per year.

Sui also added that they continue to coordinate with Hong Kong’s senior government officials and the consulates general of foreign domestic workers’ home countries to “tackle the problem at source to alleviate the burden of the helpers.”

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 $4,310.

“FDHs are encouraged to file complaints with LD if they are suspected of being overcharged of commissions,” Sui said.

He added that between 2012 and 2016, the LD has prosecuted 31 employment agencies, 23 of which were convicted of overcharging job-seekers on commissions or unlicensed operation.

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