31 March 2016
Tel. Nos.: 25238264, 97409406
Working hours, accommodation and rest days top alarming labor issues of foreign domestic workers
For three years in a row, long working hours, the lack of private room and denial of a 24-hr day off topped the woes of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong as revealed by the Annual Case Work Report of the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW).
The yearly report analyses the nature and content of cases that the MFMW receives and highlights the concrete condition and problems that FDWs face in Hong Kong. This year’s report indicated an alarming trend of same problems experienced by FDWs for the past years.
Long working hours topped the labor problem of migrants in 2015 at 83%. In 2014, it was 82% and in was at 86.6% in 2013. This year, 2 out of every 5 domestic workers reported working for more than 16 hours each while 3 out of 5 work for 11 to 16 hours daily.
In 2013, 43% of FDWs were not provided with private accommodation. This increased to 47% in 2014 and again slightly went up to 48% last year.
Making FDWs work before taking a day off had been very common for the past years at 39% in 2013, 41% in 2014, and 38% in 2015.
Other labor-related problems included unpaid wages and benefits stipulated in the Employment Ordinance. In 2015, total claims of MFMW clients amounted to HK$3.3M with 70% or HK$2.2M recovered through conciliation, negotiations and court cases.
Agency malpractices remain prevalent
The Annual Case Work Report 2015 also revealed that 97% of FDWs with agency-related problems were charged by recruiters with more than the legally-mandated fees. Only 3% were charged with the legal amount of HK$421, the equivalent of 10% of the minimum allowable wage for FDWs allowed to be collected from workers.
Cases related to fee collection by recruitment agencies was at 41% of total cases handled. Though a reduction of cases of FDWs charged with over HK$15000 was seen – 38% in 2014 and 12% in 2015 – overcharging at an average of HK$5000 to HK$10000 remained common at a high 51%.
The said cases included malpractices of agencies such as illegal fee collection, overcharging and fraudulent loans either in Hong Kong or the counterpart agency in the sending country. FDWs are charged with registration fees or training fees, and are forced to take out loans in order to evade the legally mandated cap on agency charges.
Of the agency-related problems, 85 agencies in Hong Kong were involved with 17 charging FDWs with HK$15,000 or more. Meanwhile, 83 counterpart agencies in sending countries were also involved.
Qualitative condition of FDWs remains unchanged
The continuing prevalence of labor and agency problems, and the high case count of the MFMW show that the qualitative condition of FDWs has remained unchanged.
Very slight variations on incidence reports of the above-mentioned issues are indicators that should alarm policymakers.
While there has been no recorded extreme cases of abuse like the celebrated case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, the problems in the working and living condition of FDWs persist largely due to the fact that reforms have not been made to policies such as the Two-Week Rule and the mandatory live-in employment arrangement that have been shown to expose FDWs to unacceptable treatment.
There has also been no indication that FDWs are being seriously considered for inclusion in the anticipated legislation of working hours regulation.
Meanwhile, the reduction in incidences of collection of very high fees by recruiters may mean that agencies are getting more careful following the constant exposition of agency malpractices in the past. But as the report indicated, malpractices are still very much present and must be decisively addressed.
While the government has pledged to come out with a Code of Conduct for employment agencies, this will not be enough as the problem revolves around the strict implementation of the 10% of first month salary rule on recruitment fees, swift prosecution of erring agencies, and rules that are prohibitive for FDWs wanting to file complaints.
The Annual Case Work Report
The report takes up from the thousands of cases the MFMW handles annually. Data are collated and studied for the purpose of determining problem areas that may be improved to make better the situation and status of FDWs in Hong Kong. While it shows grim challenges that FDWs face, it also portrays the determination of many to pursue justice in the face of violations to their rights and dignity.
The Mission for Migrant Workers
The Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW Limited) of the St. John’s Cathedral is a leading and trusted service provider and partner of Asian migrants and is an active link between them and HK society.
Established in 1981, the MFMW believes that foreign domestic workers are integral to but are marginalised in Hong Kong. They deserve care, respect and protection of their rights. MFMW provides crisis assistance services to FDWs in distress, empowers their communities, promotes harmony in households and works for a more multicultural and inclusive Hong Kong.