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LCQ17: Regulation of intermediaries for Indonesian domestic helpers

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 12):


     It is learnt that intermediaries are required, apart from applying for an employment agency licence under the Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57), also to obtain a business accreditation certificate (BAC) issued by the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia (Indonesia) in Hong Kong before they may arrange domestic helpers from Indonesia (Indonesian domestic helpers or IDHs) to come and work in Hong Kong.  It has been reported that less than 30 per cent of IDH intermediaries hold BACs (accredited intermediaries). Hence, some accredited intermediaries help unaccredited intermediaries to operate in the name of their branches through granting business concessions. Moreover, I have received complaints from quite a number of IDHs and their employers, who alleged that quite a number of IDH intermediaries required IDHs to surrender passports to them for retention. In addition, some intermediaries charged IDHs a handling fee or training fee of an amount equivalent to IDHs' six to nine months' wages, and required those IDHs who could not afford such fees to take out loans from their associated finance companies in Hong Kong at exorbitant interest rates as high as 40 per cent per annum. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of IDH intermediaries in Hong Kong holding business registration certificates;

(2) whether it knows the current number of accredited intermediaries in Hong Kong;

(3) of the number of accredited intermediaries which submitted business registration applications with the names of proprietors/partners inconsistent with the names of proprietors/partners in their branch registration applications, in the past five years;

(4) regarding accredited intermediaries helping unaccredited intermediaries' operation by granting business concessions, whether the Government has any measure to regulate this practice; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether it has any measure to eradicate the practice of accredited intermediaries helping unaccredited intermediaries apply for IDHs or in their operation; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(6) whether it is illegal for IDH intermediaries to require IDHs to surrender passports to them for retention; if so, of the relevant legislation that they have violated and the penalties for such offences; if not, whether it has assessed if such a practice of the intermediaries is sensible and reasonable;

(7) whether there is any measure to eradicate the practice of intermediaries of charging foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) high fees in the name of handling fees or training fees; if so, of the details; if not, whether the Government is turning a blind eye to such a practice;

(8) whether there is any measure under the existing regime to ensure that IDH intermediaries will take care of the rights and interests of IDHs during their employment in Hong Kong; if so, of the details, and whether it has assessed if the recent incident of suspected abuse of an IDH has indicated that such measures are ineffective; if such measures are not available, how the protection for the rights and interests of IDHs can be enhanced;

(9) whether there is any measure to eradicate the practice of some Hong Kong finance companies in providing loans to IDHs and transferring such money to other people (such as intermediaries in Indonesia, etc.) before IDHs come to Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(10) whether there is any measure to eradicate the situation of IDHs who owe debts to Hong Kong finance companies coming to work in Hong Kong, so as to prevent their employers from being embroiled in the matter and harassed by debt collectors; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My response to the Hon Leung Kwok-hung's enquiry is set out below:

(1) Pursuant to the Business Registration Ordinance, business operators shall provide the "Description and nature of business" of their businesses to the Business Registration Office of the Inland Revenue Department. The column "Description and nature of business" in the application form is only for putting down a general description and has no prescribed format or category. The Business Registration Office does not keep statistics for a particular business category.

(2) According to information provided by the Indonesian Consulate-General, there were 237 employment agencies (EAs) in Hong Kong accredited by the Consulate as at February 5, 2014.

(3) For the reasons set out in answer (1), the Business Registration Office of the Inland Revenue Department cannot identify those agency businesses with business registration certificates from its database and cannot provide the required information. Moreover, for the purpose of the Business Registration Ordinance, a person operating on a sole proprietorship is the sole proprietor, and persons operating a partnership business are the partners. These business operators are not required to provide their personal particulars when applying for registration of their branch businesses.

(4) and (5) According to the Employment Ordinance (EO), each of the EAs has to obtain a licence from the Labour Department (LD) before operating any business of placement service. At present, the EO and Employment Agency Regulations (EAR) do not require an EA to be accredited by other countries before it can obtain a licence. We also do not require a foreign domestic helper (FDH) to apply through an EA accredited by other countries for working in Hong Kong. Individual countries may, according to their own policies, grant accreditation to local EAs for processing the employment contract of their workers to work in Hong Kong, which is an arrangement outside the jurisdiction of the Labour Department. According to the laws of Hong Kong, a local EA without a licence issued by LD, regardless of whether such EA has been accredited, is not permitted to obtain employment for another person or supplying personnel to an employer. LD will investigate into and take appropriate action against any EAs that operate illegally.

(6) There is no legislation authorising EAs to retain personal identification documents (e.g. identity card, passport, etc.) of FDHs without the latter's consent. If an EA retains the passport of an FDH without the latter's consent and there is evidence to show that the EA has the intention to treat the passport as its own to dispose of regardless of the right of the FDH, it may amount to theft under the Theft Ordinance. Any person who commits theft shall be liable on conviction upon indictment to maximum imprisonment of 10 years. LD will refer such cases to the Police Force for investigation if EAs are found to have done so during their handling of cases. If the licensee of an EA is convicted of an offence under the Theft Ordinance, LD will revoke his/her licence.

(7) According to the EO, as in the case of other job seekers, EAs are only allowed to receive from FDHs for successful job placement service the prescribed commission specified in the Second Schedule of the EAR, which is no more than 10 per cent of the latter's first month's salary. EAs are not allowed to receive from a job seeker, in connection with obtaining employment for him/her, any fees or rewards, except the prescribed commission. For application fees or training fees etc. paid by FDHs to EAs or recruiters in their home countries for working in Hong Kong, despite the fact that the HKSAR Government does not have any jurisdiction over such overseas operations, we have proactively raised the matter with the relevant Consulates in Hong Kong and urged them to draw the problem to the attention of their government and take follow-up action.

(8) FDHs enjoy the same protection and rights under the EO as local employees. LD has launched extensive promotional and educational activities to ensure that FDHs are aware of their own rights. If their employment rights are infringed, they can seek assistance from LD and make use of the free conciliation and consultation services provided by LD as local workers. Following the recent incident of the alleged abuse of an FDH, LD has planned to step up its publicity and educational efforts for FDHs to deepen their understanding of their personal safety and employment rights.

(9) Except for exempted bodies, anyone who conducts business as a money lender must apply for a licence under the Money Lenders Ordinance and be subject to the regulation of that Ordinance. If reports relating to the violation of Money Lenders Ordinance are received, the Police Force will undertake relevant investigation and follow-up work according to the situation of the case.

(10) The Immigration Department (ImmD) assesses the visa applications of FDHs according to established procedures, and considers whether the applicant meets the relevant criteria and normal immigration requirements, such as: holding a valid travel document with adequate returnability to his/her country of residence or citizenship, be of clear criminal record and raises no security or criminal concerns to Hong Kong, and having no likelihood of becoming a burden to Hong Kong, etc.

     If ImmD receives notification from employers that they are harassed owing to their FDHs' indebtedness, ImmD will keep the information on record. The record will be one of the considerations to be taken into account in future assessment of the relevant FDH's application for visa or extension of stay.

Ends/Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:13


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