26 March 2018
Tel. Nos.: 25228264, 97409406
Labor, recruitment, working and living problems for FDWs persist
Policy reform, positive public regard to foreign domestic workers still much needed
The Service Report 2017 released by the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW), an NGO in Hong Kong, revealed that labour-related problems, grave working and living condition and agency malpractices remained as the most widespread concerns of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who sought services and information from the MFMW last year.
Meanwhile, recovery of monetary claims by FDWs notably increased HK$3.6 million in 2017, upped 17 per cent from 2016.
The report also indicated positive responses to several new initiatives, which were offered to employers and households with FDWs, and helped enable an environment where problems in working and living conditions can be mitigated and fair employer-employee relationships can be enhanced.
Highlights of The Service Report 2017:
A little over half (52%) of the FDWs who sought the help of the MFMW reported labor issues ranging from violations of provisions of the employment contract, pre-mature termination of contract, and failing to pay wages and benefits stipulated by the Employment Ordinance.
Of their clients, almost half or 42 percent, had their contracts terminated prematurely and were only allowed 14 days to remain in Hong Kong under the Two-Week Rule. Because the rule does not allow FDWs with terminated contracts to work, they were put in severe insecure situation without any means of supporting themselves. To contend with the crisis situation, they had to rely on charitable assistance from limited number of NGOs for shelter, food and expenses for transportation and visa extension until their labor complaints were resolved.
Grave working and living condition
The MFMW also reported that 2 out of every 5 of their clients do not have their own private room and have alternative sleeping arrangements showing that suitable accommodation is still a grave concern. In 2017, the MFMW’s research “Pictures from the Inside” showed the extent of the problem of lack of suitable accommodation and described in details extreme accommodation arrangements FDWs have to live with due to the mandatory live-in requirement imposed by the Immigration Department.
Additionally, the report showed that 9 out of every 10 clients experience long working hours and insufficient rest, with 63 percent reportedly working 11 to 16 hours a day, while 34 percent working more than 16 hours. One-third of FDWs are made to work even before they take their day-off, while a quarter of them (25%) complain about insufficient food provision. These situations, according to the MFMW, reflect what community organisations have been saying: modern slavery of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong arise from rules such as the mandatory live-in requirement.
Clearly, some policies in Hong Kong are in need of urgent review and reform, including the inclusion of more precise guidelines on unsuitable accommodation for FDWs as well as enabling FDWs with ongoing cases to have capacity to sustain their needs while waiting for resolution of their complaints.
Malpractices of recruitment agencies
Two out of every 5 clients reported they are victims of illegal recruitment activities by erring agencies. Illegal recruitment refers to malpractices of agencies that violate recruitment agency rules in Hong Kong and in their countries of origin.
The most extensive malpractices, according to the report, are illegal collection of fees, overcharging and fraudulent loans that oftentimes result to debt bondage of migrants.
While Hong Kong’s law puts a cap of 10% of the first month’s wage for recruitment charges, the actual amount collected is much higher under the guise of registration or training fees. Fraudulent loans are forced upon FDWs that sometimes take five to seven months for them to repay.
About half (49%) of FDWs paid HK$5,001 to HK$10,000 to agencies, while 15 percent of them paid more than HK$15,000.
Promoting harmony, educating employers
New initiatives of the MFMW targeting households and employers, the Report said, received positive responses from a number of local Hong Kong people and expatriate families. These new approaches were done to help reduce conflicts inside households and mitigate difficulties not only for the FDWs but also for employers.
Happy Homes, a project launched in September 2017, promoted stories of harmonious relations between employers and FDWs that the MFMW hoped could be emulated by others. Ten stories were collected and featured in the MFMW’s Facebook page from October to December 2017.
Meanwhile, 32 households were given recognition as “Happy Homes”, and 22 families in total had attended two separate public recognition days.
The Employer Awareness Program saw about 20 employers seeking information to guide them in their relationship with their domestic workers.
About the Service Report
The report compiles and analyzes the number and nature of problems that the MFMW receives each year. It is done for the purpose of determining problem areas that may be improved to make better the situation and status of FDWs in Hong Kong.
About the Mission for Migrant Workers
The Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW Limited) is an outreach ministry of St John’s Cathedral. The MFMW is a leading and trusted service provider and partner of Asian migrants, and a committed advocate in building a caring and inclusive Hong Kong society.
Established in 1981, the MFMW believes that migrant workers as integral to but marginalised in Hong Kong, deserve care, respect and protection of their rights. The 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.