LCQ5: Standard Employment Contract for foreign domestic helpers

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):

Question :

     At present, as the husbands and wives in quite a number of dual-income families in Hong Kong have to go out to work, they need to employ foreign domestic helpers ("FDHs") to take care of the elderly and young children at home. According to the information of the Registration of Persons Office, there were only 881 FDHs in Hong Kong in 1974, but by the end of 2010, there were already more than 285 000 FDHs and among them, 117 000 FDHs had continuously worked in Hong Kong for more than seven years. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that the Standard Employment Contract ("SEC") for FDHs stipulates that the contract period is two years, which does not include a probation period, quite a number of dual-income families have relayed to me that: unlike employer-employee relationship in general, FDHs have to integrate themselves into their employers' families, and during the initial period of the contract, newly employed FDHs may have problems getting along with their employers due to the differences in living habits and customs, whether the authorities will reconsider including in SEC a provision for a probation period, so as to enable both the employer and the employee to terminate the contract as soon as possible during the probation period, with the cost of passage for the FDH to return to his/her place of origin being borne by the employer; and

(b) given that under SEC, employers are required to provide free medical treatment in case of illnesses or personal injuries of FDHs during the employment period, but SEC has not prescribed an upper limit with regard to medical expenses; at present, the certificates of the medical examinations undertaken by FDHs before they take up employment in Hong Kong are mostly provided by FDH employment agencies to the employers, and such certificates are normally issued by the authorities in the place of origin of FDHs; when the employer finds out that the FDH suffers from serious illness or is pregnant only after her arrival in Hong Kong, apart from taking care of the FDH, the employer is also required to pay for her medical expenses, making it difficult for dual-income families to afford the expenses, whether the Government will require that the certificates of medical examinations for newly employed FDHs be provided by designated and quality assured medical institutions in the territory or in the place of origin of FDHs, so as to ensure the credibility and reliability of such medical certificates, and to safeguard the interests of the employers; if there are difficulties in implementing such a proposal, whether the Government will consider prescribing an upper limit of the medical expenses to be borne by the employers for their FDHs, so that the employers can budget for that?



     My reply to the Hon Mrs Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's question is set out below:

(a) According to the "Employment Contract (for a domestic helper recruited from abroad)" (the standard employment contract), either the employer or the employee may terminate the contract by giving not less than one month's notice in writing or by paying one month's wages to the other party.  The purpose of this arrangement is to strike a balance between the interests of employers and foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), and to offer both parties a degree of flexibility.

     The existing arrangement for FDHs already requires that they must have at least two years' working experience as a domestic helper before coming to Hong Kong, thus reducing the chance of an FDH failing to settle into the job. However, some employers have indicated that owing to differences in culture or living habits, their FDHs were unable to adjust to the new work environment within a short period. These employers have therefore proposed the introduction of a probation period to shorten the time required for them to terminate the contract with these FDHs. We understand the situation and concern of these employers, and are prepared to conduct an in-depth study on the suggestion. However, the introduction of a probation period for FDHs involves complicated issues. For example, FDHs can also seek early termination of the contract during the probation; FDHs' desire to come to Hong Kong may be dampened out of concerns over the serious losses in costs and expenses resulting from their not passing the probation; and the need to prevent employers or FDHs from abusing the probation period, etc. We must therefore handle the matter carefully and consult relevant employer and FDH groups as well as other stakeholders at an appropriate juncture to decide if the idea is feasible.

(b) According to the standard employment contract, FDHs should have been medically examined on their fitness for employment as domestic helpers. An employer, before sponsoring an FDH's application for an employment visa for Hong Kong, should scrutinise the certificate for the medical examination. Given that FDHs can be living or working in their place of origin or different places in other countries, requiring a medical certificate to be provided by designated medical institutions is operationally not feasible.

     Currently, the standard employment contract does not set a specified upper limit on the expenses of free medical treatment that an employer must provide for the FDH. As it is an employer's decision to employ an FDH to come to Hong Kong to take care of household duties based on the employer's family circumstances and needs, the employer has the responsibility to ensure that public money would not be required to pay for the outstanding costs should the FDH fail to fully settle the costs incurred for using public medical services as a result of sickness and injuries during employment (except for the period during which the FDH leaves Hong Kong voluntarily and for personal purposes). For the above reason, we consider it inappropriate to set an upper limit on the medical expenses borne by employers. To minimise the unexpected costs arising from medical expenses incurred by their FDHs who are ill or suffer from personal injury, employers are encouraged to purchase suitable medical insurance for their FDHs. Indeed, there are already various insurance products targeting at the medical needs of FDHs in the market.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:18