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LCQ2: Employers to provide free medical treatment to foreign domestic helpers
     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (November 15):


     The Standard Employment Contract (SEC) applicable to foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), which was drawn up by the Government, provides that in the event that an FDH is ill or suffers personal injury regardless of whether this arises out of employment … the Employer shall provide free medical treatment to the helper.  Free medical treatment includes medical consultation, maintenance in hospital and emergency dental treatment.  An FDH employer group has pointed out that FDHs are free to go out and engage in their favourite activities on non-working days (including statutory holidays, paid annual leave and rest days).  Employers have no authority to stop FDHs from going out during inclement weather or interfere with their engagement in high-risk activities.  If FDHs fall sick or sustain injuries due to accidents during such period of time, their employers are required to bear their medical expenses as per the contracts.  However, the insurance policies on employees' compensation (labour insurance policies) taken out by employers for FDHs normally do not cover medical expenses incurred due to illnesses or injuries or accidents not attributable to their employment.  I have received requests for assistance from a large number of FDH employers who said that they were required to bear huge medical expenses of their FDHs.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the current number and percentage of FDH employers who have taken out insurance policies for FDHs covering medical expenses not related to work;

(2) given that the existing legislation does not require employers to bear their employees' medical expenses not related to work, whether the Government will review the aforesaid provision in SEC, so that the employers and employees share the relevant expenses among them in a more reasonable manner; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the Government will consider enacting legislation to require that FDHs must take out the relevant medical insurance policies on their own or that employers must take out such insurance policies for their FDHs, in order to offer protection for both the employers and employees?



     Clause 9(a) of the Standard Employment Contract (SEC) for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) requires that in the event that an FDH is ill or suffers from personal injury during the period of employment, irrespective of whether it is attributable to work, the employer shall provide free medical treatment to the FDH.  Free medical treatment includes medical consultation, maintenance in hospital and emergency dental treatment.  The FDH shall accept medical treatment by any registered medical practitioner as provided by the employer.  Furthermore, pursuant to the Employees' Compensation Ordinance (ECO), all employers (including FDH employers) are required to take out employees' compensation insurance (EC insurance) for their employees, to cover their liabilities under the law (including Common Law) if their employees  are injured at work.

     My consolidated reply to the question raised by the Hon Michael Tien is set out below –

     As explained above, it is a legal requirement for all FDH employers to take out EC insurance for their FDHs.  The Labour Department does not maintain information about the detailed coverage of the insurance taken out by individual employers for their FDHs, including whether the insurance product covers non-work-related injuries and illnesses.

     The requirement of Clause 9(a) of the SEC seeks to ensure that when employers hire FDHs to Hong Kong to provide household services at their residences, FDHs would not be deprived of or delayed in treatment for illnesses or personal injuries for want of means.  Even if FDHs need to use public medical services, the expenses incurred should be borne by employers rather than the public purse.  On the other hand, the SEC has already clearly defined the responsibilities of employers.  For example, it has stipulated that employers are not responsible for medical expenses during the period which FDHs leave Hong Kong of their own volition and for their own personal purposes.

     In sum, we consider it reasonable to hold employers responsible for the medical expenses of FDHs under their employment and do not see any strong justifications to abolish or revise such arrangement.

     In fact, the insurance market currently offers various types of comprehensive insurance products for FDHs.  Apart from the basic EC insurance coverage, there is also additional coverage, including medical expenses of hospitalisation and surgery, outpatient clinic and dental care, etc.  In addition, quite a number of comprehensive FDH insurance products offer coverage on personal accident, expenses for FDH to return to place of origin owing to serious illness or injury and expenses for hiring a replacement FDH, etc.  According to these comprehensive insurance products, even if FDHs require medical treatment due to injury arising from non-work-related activities or by an accident on a rest day, employers may submit medical claims to insurance companies in accordance with the comprehensive insurance plan taken out, or submit personal accident claims which include death or permanent disability of FDHs caused by severe accidents, etc.  At the same time, the policy terms of each insurance product would list out in detail the general and/or personal accident-related items that are excluded from the policy coverage.  In taking out FDH comprehensive insurance products, employers should, as in taking out other insurance products, carefully compare the products offered by different insurance companies and examine the policy terms to have a clear understanding of the coverage, for example, whether the policy terms have made it clear that accidents occurred in inclement weather would not be covered, etc.  Employers should then decide on taking out additional types of coverage or scopes of medical coverage.

     President, the existing arrangement has struck an appropriate balance between the requirement for employers to provide reasonable protection for their FDHs and the affordability of employers.  There is also sufficient flexibility for employers to choose freely from various comprehensive insurance products providing additional coverage according to their own circumstances.  Nevertheless, the Labour Department would step up promotion and publicity efforts to advise employers to consider taking out necessary comprehensive insurance products in compliance with the requirements under the ECO and SEC.  On the other hand, the department will remind employers through employment agencies and insurance companies to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities under the relevant legislation and SEC when employing FDHs, including their responsibility for the medical expenses of FDHs during the employment period.  The department will also reinforce the promotional message that employers should consider taking out comprehensive insurance to lower the personal liability risk.
Ends/Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:20
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