LCQ3: Regulation of the hiring of foreign domestic helpers

     Following is a question by Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (January 6):


     It has been reported that between June 2014 and September last year, the Immigration Department (ImmD) uncovered 6 000-odd cases of possible abuse of the arrangement for premature termination of contracts for change of employers (commonly known as "job-hopping") by foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) and, among such cases, ImmD refused 500-odd applications for change of employer. Some concern groups have pointed out that one in every five employers of FDHs indicated that they had encountered the problem of job-hopping by FDHs. Quite a number of employers are of the view that as the existing legislation and arrangements have failed to protect their rights, it is imperative for the Government to amend the relevant legislation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has reviewed if the existing arrangements are effective in deterring FDHs from job-hopping and whether it will consider amending the relevant arrangements to enhance the protection for employers, such as stipulating that FDHs are required to pay their own costs of returning to home countries in case of premature termination of contracts without justifiable reasons, and that employment visas will not be issued to those FDHs who have repeatedly changed their employers within a year; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as some employers have pointed out that under the existing Standard Employment Contract, they are required to provide their FDHs with free passages and air tickets from Hong Kong to their places of domicile even if their FDHs have committed criminal offences such as theft, prostitution, drug trafficking, etc. or have made serious mistakes which render them unable to fulfill their contracts, whether the Government has reviewed if that provision is fair to employers and whether it will consider amending such provision; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) as it has been reported that some unscrupulous FDH employment agencies (EAs) have abetted FDHs to deliberately perform badly with the intent of inducing their employers to take the initiative to dismiss them so that such FDHs can obtain one month's wages in lieu of notice as well as free passages and air tickets to return to their places of domicile while EAs can receive intermediary fees from the new employers of FDHs, whether the Government will step up its regulation on EAs, including disclosing the names of those EAs which have placed a number of job-hopping FDHs, as well as stipulating a heavier penalty for abetting FDHs to violate the law so as to enhance the deterrent effect; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Having consulted the Security Bureau, our consolidated response to Dr Hon Quat's question is set out below -

(1) Since June 2013, the Immigration Department (ImmD) has strengthened the assessment of employment visa applications of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) who changed employers repeatedly in order to combat suspected abuse of the arrangements for premature contract termination for change of employer (commonly known as "job-hopping"). In assessing the employment visa applications of FDHs, ImmD closely scrutinises the case details such as the number and reasons for premature contract termination in the last 12 months with a view to detecting any abuse of the arrangements for premature contract termination. From June 2013 to end-November 2015, ImmD received around 251 700 employment visa applications from FDHs, of which 6 739 were subject to further scrutiny, accounting for 2.7 per cent of all applications. After close scrutiny of these applications, ImmD refused 582 of them. Another 724 applications were withdrawn by the applicants or could not be processed further. The ImmD believes that such measure is effective in deterring "job-hopping".

(2) In accordance with Clause 7 of the Standard Employment Contract (the Contract) for employing FDHs, employers have to provide their FDH with free return passage to his/her place of origin on termination or expiry of the Contract. This requirement is put in place because as the employers who hire FDHs to work in Hong Kong, they have the responsibility to pay for the FDH's return passage, thereby ensuring the FDH's smooth return to his/her place of origin upon the completion or termination of the contract. Otherwise, the FDH concerned may be stranded in Hong Kong owing to the lack of means to travel. Apart from employers of FDHs, the same requirement also applies to other employers who hire foreign workers from overseas to work in Hong Kong under other importation of labour schemes.

(3) The Labour Department (LD) regulates employment agencies (EAs) pursuant to Part XII of the Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57) and the Employment Agency Regulations (Cap. 57A). The said Ordinance and Regulations stipulate that any persons operating an EA in Hong Kong must first obtain an EA licence from LD. If an EA is suspected of unlicensed operation or overcharging job-seekers, LD will initiate investigation immediately upon receipt of complaints. Prosecution will be instituted subject to availability of sufficient evidence and prosecution witness. To strengthen the monitoring over EAs, LD has increased its manpower since 2014 to conduct more inspections. In 2014, LD successfully prosecuted four EAs, one of which was convicted of overcharging job-seekers. In 2015, LD prosecuted 12 EAs and nine of them were convicted of overcharging job-seekers. LD will continue to take stringent enforcement actions against EAs which have violated the said Ordinance and the Regulations.

     Regarding the trade practices of EAs, LD will refer cases suspected of violating the Trade Description Ordinance (Cap. 362) or other criminal ordinances to the relevant departments for follow-up action. LD will revoke or refuse to renew the licence of an EA if the licensee is convicted of criminal offences such as fraud, dishonesty and extortion etc.

     LD has been reminding EAs to abide by the law and adopt proper business conducts through periodic correspondences and guidelines. On the other hand, LD has also been promoting a good and long-term employment relationship between employers and FDHs. LD will continue to step up its publicity and education efforts in these two areas.

     As mentioned in part (1), if an FDH is suspected of abusing the arrangement for premature termination of contracts for change of employers, ImmD will consider refusing the application.

Ends/Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:03