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Lau tells DHs: Support cases vs employment agencies with facts

02 June 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao
Legislator Miriam Lau says over the
past years she has received several complaints
about abuses but these have gone nowhere because
the complainants have not presented evidence.
To her right are Legislator Fernando Cheung and
 Cosmin Costinas, Para Site executive director.

Migrant workers should come forward and report employment agency abuses to the Hong Kong government, but must include evidence to support of their allegations, according to a local legislator and advocate of migrant workers’ rights.
Legislative Council member Emily Lau also urged Hong Kong’s 350,000 mostly Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers to submit their views on the draft “Code of Practice for Employment Agencies” so their opinion can be considered by the Labour Department.
Lau and fellow Legislator Fernando Cheung met briefly with the press and 15 domestic helpers accompanying them on a visit on May 22 to the Para Site art gallery in Quarry Bay. They were taken on a guided tour by Para Site executive director and curator Cosmin Costinas.
The maids, from non-government organizations Enrich and Helpers for Domestic Helpers, also voiced their complaints.
The department released the draft code in late April and is now consulting various sectors on the way forward. The Philippine Consulate has also circulated an online link to the code to members of the Filipino community, and encouraged them to submit their views. The consultation ends on June 17.
The SUN asked Lau how prepared the government was to give more teeth to the Employment Agency Administration to punish agencies that overcharge the helpers, force them to take out loans to pay for illegal fees, and confiscate their passports in the guise of holding them for safekeeping.
Lau, who chairs the Democratic Party, said workers who are subjected to these illicit acts should go to her or Cheung at the LegCo and present their complaints along with documentary proof.
The legislator said Labour and Manpower Secretary Matthew Cheung, who drafted the code, was bent on reforming the employment agency industry.
“He wants complete change,” Lau said, adding that if workers said they were made to take out loans, they must give evidence. “Hong Kong is a rule of law, so, we don’t want to make allegations or charges. They have to be backed up by facts.”
She said that over the years she had been approached by many domestic workers with complaints against their agencies, but until now she could not move on with their cases because they had not come up with proofs.
Lau also cited the need to foster a safer work environment for domestic helpers whose service is invaluable to the day-to-day operations of Hong Kong households.
“The government needs to set up a mechanism to handle complaints. They need to improve the existing system to handle disputes between the employees, employers and agencies. Employers also need better education on Labour Code compliance,” she said.
“We must also continue to push the Philippines and Indonesian governments to do more for their people, and to defend the rights of domestic helpers here in Hong Kong.”
Fernando Cheung, vice-chairman of the Labour Party, admitted that much of Hong Kong’s discrimination against foreign domestic workers stems from the traditional attitude of older generations towards these people.
He recounted how his Labour Party lost in an election after it supported a proposal to grant permanent residency to foreign domestic workers for their contribution to Hong Kong society.
But Cheung said he was hopeful the younger Hong Kong generation brought up by foreign helpers would bring about a change in attitude towards the maids.

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