The Hong Kong government has categorically stated that a foreign domestic worker need not go through an employment agency to get a job here.
“We wish to clarify that it is in fact not the government’s requirement that foreign domestic helpers must be recruited through employment agencies,” said a government spokesperson in a statement released on Dec. 9.
The Philippines and Indonesia, which supply the most number of domestic workers in Hong Kong, however, require the workers to go through recruitment agencies.
“The government will continue to strengthen its monitoring over employment agencies and work closely with the relevant governments to protect the well-being of FDHs,” said the spokesperson. “In fact, where there is evidence that an FDH has been abused or exploited, discretion would be given to allow him/her to change employer in Hong Kong without being required to return to his/her place of origin first,” the spokesperson said.
The statement was issued after the United Nations Committee against Torture in Geneva issued its concluding observations on the third report of the HKSAR under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
The spokesperson also defended the Kong government’s “two-week rule” policy for terminated foreign domestic workers, as well as its live-in requirement for helpers, which it calls as the cornerstone of its FDH policy.
He said the two-week rule’s main purpose is to allow foreign domestic workers sufficient time to prepare for their departure and “not to facilitate them to find new employers”.
He also said any change to the requirement that domestic helpers must stay in their employers’ homes “will go against the rationale for allowing the importation of FDHs to meet the acute and long-standing shortage of local live-in domestic helpers and the fundamental policy that local employees (including local domestic helpers) should enjoy priority in employment”.
He said each year, the government receives around 5,000 applications for change of employer after premature termination of contract for various reasons. “Less than 20 (0.4%) of these cases involved FDHs who had been abused or exploited by their ex-employers,” he said.
The Government has been working closely with relevant consulates in Hong Kong in raising the helpers’ awareness of their rights and encouraging them to report cases of abuse or exploitation to relevant authorities as soon as possible, the spokesperson said.
The committee “commended Hong Kong in a number of important areas” during its hearing of the report in Geneva on Nov 17-18, the spokesperson said. The HKSAR delegation was led by Permanent Secretary for Security Joshua Law.
One of the Hong Kong government’s important actions which the committee praised was the amendment of the Prosecution Code in 2013 providing guidelines for prosecutors to handle cases relating to forced labor, the spokesperson said.
The government’s next report under the CAT is due in 2019 and will contain its detailed response to the committee’s recommendations.