Motion on “Improving the Policies on Foreign Domestic Helpers” (2023.02.15)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, Deputy President. Foreign domestic helpers (“FDHs”) have been coming to Hong Kong since the 1970s. Back then, FDHs mainly took care of families and children, so a large number of women could continue to work after they got married with the help of FDHs, resulting in the flourishing development of the Hong Kong economy. Therefore, the contribution of FDHs to Hong Kong should be recognized. Nowadays, with the emergence of a large number of middle-class families in Hong Kong, the demand for FDHs has been increasing, and FDHs, apart from taking care of children, are also looking after the elderly and the chronically ill. Consequently, the number of FDHs has gradually increased to about 400 000. While the number of FDHs continues to grow, a lot of problems have naturally emerged; thus, it is time to comprehensively review and improve the policies on FDHs.

In recent years, under the impact of the epidemic, FDHs were not allowed to come to Hong Kong during a certain period of time, causing many families who were eager to hire FDHs to feel helpless. As a result, some unscrupulous agencies encouraged some serving FDHs to engage in job-hopping for higher salaries, causing impacts on many families. The year before last, the Immigration Department (“ImmD”) received more than 5 800 suspected cases of job-hopping, more than double of the number in the preceding year. With ImmD’s crackdown operations against such cases and gradual resumption to normalcy, it is learnt that the situation has been mitigated and toned down; yet, the community is dissatisfied with various loopholes in the existing system.

Deputy President, one of the reasons why I support reviewing the policies on FDHs is that FDHs directly affect the lives of the families concerned and whatever happened to FDHs will directly affect the families they serve. Taking job-hopping as an example, the premature termination of contracts by FDHs will make their employers feel helpless. In order to achieve their objectives, some FDHs have even lodged complaints against their employers for violation of the Employment Ordinance, causing great distress to the families concerned.

Another issue that has substantial impact on employers’ families is that FDHs are borrowing money from finance companies. Although there is no official statistics, it is very common for FDHs to borrow money from finance companies. In many cases, FDHs borrow money to assist families and friends in their hometown but they will very often take out loans continuously. When they are unable to make repayments, finance companies will cause harassment at the employers’ residence. Some employers even said that they had directly received messages from finance companies, reminding FDHs to make repayments. Although employers do not have to shoulder responsibilities for the debts of their FDHs, the harassment caused by finance companies definitely puts enormous psychological pressures on law-abiding citizens. In addition, there are problems with many FDH agencies. For example, they recommended FDHs who failed to match the specified requirements to the employers. Some agencies falsely claimed that FDHs could speak Cantonese or knew how to do all the chores. Yet, the employers found that those FDHs did not have such skills after they had arrived in Hong Kong. These problems actually have huge impacts on the employers’ families.

At present, an agency intending to start operation is only required to hold a business registration certificate and an employment agency licence and to be given accreditation by the relevant consulates, without being subject to any regulation. As the formalities for importation of FDHs involve a lot of legal procedures, approval from the relevant countries and immigration arrangements, the agency services are rather professional. The relevant legislation was mostly enacted in the 1970s and failed to keep up with the times. Moreover, the agencies are of varying standards and many agencies on the market are operating as intermediaries, causing chaos in the market.

Therefore, the Government should set up an effective regulatory mechanism but not necessarily a regulatory body because I am worried that a regulatory body may usually incur excessive regulatory costs which will be transferred to employers. So, it is most important to have a good regulatory system; at the same time, it is worth the Government’s consideration to formulate a code of practice and a standard contract for FDH agencies, and to study the introduction of restrictions on lending to FDHs.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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