LCQ8: Underpayment of wages to foreign domestic helpers

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (January 26):

Question :

     Regarding the problem of underpayment of wages to foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the criteria currently adopted by the Labour Department (LD) and the Labour Tribunal (LT) to invite underpaid FDHs to come forward as witnesses for prosecutions against employers for underpayment of wages;

(b) of the total number of underpaid FDHs invited by LD and LT to come forward as witnesses in the past five years; and among them, the number of those who accepted the invitation and the major reasons for some FDHs who were unwilling to come forward as witnesses;

(c) of the total number of cases handled by LD and LT in the past five years in respect of claims made by FDHs to recover the underpaid wages from their employers; and among such cases, the number of those in which the FDHs concerned succeeded in recovering the full amount of their underpaid wages;

(d) of the number of employers convicted for underpayment of wages to FDHs in the past five years, together with a breakdown by the penalty imposed on them; and

(e) whether the Immigration Department (ImmD) will impose restrictions on further applications for employing FDHs from employers who have been prosecuted and convicted for underpayment of wages to their FDHs; if it will not, of the reasons for that; if it will, the details, and among the applications by Hong Kong employers for employing FDHs which were rejected by ImmD in the past five years, the number of applications which were rejected on reasons related to the employers concerned having been convicted for underpayment of wages?



     The Administration attaches great importance to protecting the rights and benefits of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs).  FDHs enjoy the same rights and benefits as local workers under the Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57) (EO).  The Labour Department (LD) encourages FDHs who are owed wages to come forward and report their cases to LD, and we spare no efforts in handling requests for assistance.  FDHs can also make use of LD's free conciliation service and seek adjudication from the Labour Tribunal.  Apart from assisting FDHs to pursue their claims through conciliation, LD will prosecute offending employers if there is sufficient evidence of an offence under the EO.

     My reply to the question of the Hon Leung Yiu-chung is set out below:

(a) If LD detects any suspected wage offences under the EO committed by employers, LD will invite the concerned FDH to provide information and act as a prosecution witness (PW).

(b) In the past five years from 2006 to 2010, a total of 197 FDHs agreed to act as PWs on wage offences upon LD's invitation.  We do not have the number of FDHs who refused to act as PWs.  We understand that FDHs have various reasons for not willing to act as PWs.  For example, they have secured a new job and do not have time to act as a PW; they have returned to their place of origin; or they have other unspecified personal reasons.

(c) During the same period, LD handled a total of 2 613 claims which involved FDHs lodging claims for arrears of wages against their employers.  These claims concerned outstanding wages and other claim items.  LD does not have separate breakdown of claims regarding arrears of wages resolved through LD.  The Labour Tribunal does not have relevant case figures either.

(d) In the past five years, LD secured a total of 363 convicted summonses on wages offences, involving 36 employers of FDHs.  Among these convicted employers, two were sentenced to imprisonment of three months each, nine were sentenced to community service orders of 80 to 160 hours, 24 were fined with a maximum fine of $90,000, and the remaining one will be sentenced later.

(e) If an FDH employer is convicted of contravening relevant labour legislation, the employer may be regarded as not meeting the criteria for employing FDHs for a period of time (in general, two years), and the relevant application will not be approved.

     In the past five years, 176 applications for employing FDHs from employers were refused.  The Immigration Department does not have breakdown by reason of refusal.

Ends/Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Issued at HKT 11:32