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Migrants say draft code for job agencies lacks teeth

29 April 2016

Headquarters of Hong Kong Labour Department.

By Daisy CL Mandap

Too late, too little, is how a large support group for migrants has branded the proposed code of practice for employment agencies released on Apr 17 by Hong Kong’s Labour Department for public consultation.
The draft code, which will be open to comments and suggestions from interested parties until June 17, was issued after more than two years of public hearings on issues related to the recruitment of foreign domestic helpers to Hong Kong.
The 100-page document provides strict guidelines for employment agencies, but stops short of imposing penalties or sanctions on violators.
This, according to Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, is what makes the code far from satisfactory.
“Very disappointed kami, kasi after so many consultations, ito lang ang resulta,” he said.
“It remains to be seen kung may idudulot itong pagbabago, but offhand there is nothing much that the code of practice can do because it is not mandatory”.
As it is now, the code only provides that the Commissioner for Labour could revoke an agency’s license for repeated violations.
However, in a background brief issued to launch the code, the Legislative Council’s manpower power did not rule out taking further steps to tighten the regulation.
“In light of the implementation of CoP (code of practice), the Administration would review the need for making compliance with CoP a statutory requirement and introducing other regulatory measures,” said the brief.
Such regulations could include introducing legislative amendments, like raising the maximum penalty for the more serious forms of violations.
The code was the result of a series of hearings conducted by Legco’s manpower panel starting in early 2014 on the need to protect migrant workers rights, and tighten control over employment agencies.
Dozens of non-government organizations were asked to present submissions, while legislators grilled government officials on some of the issues raised during the hearings.
Most of the groups’ submissions focused on the high placement fees collected from the migrant workers, and the pressure exerted on them by their recruiters to pay up, either directly while still in their home countries, or by taking out loans upon arrival in Hong Kong.
The result was the draft code which defines the roles and obligations of the agencies in their dealings with job seekers or workers and employers alike.
The document also provides for the adoption of best practices for agencies, like prohibiting them from getting their recruits to take out loans to pay for fees, or from withholding the worker’s passport.
A key feature is the requirement for agencies to draft a service agreement separately with the employer and the worker, setting out clearly the terms of their engagement, including fees. While the code is silent on how much can be collected from the employer, it is clear in saying that only 10% of the worker’s first monthly salary may be charged to the worker.

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