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DH protection from illegal fees and abuse urged

24 November 2016


Joshua Mata of SENTRO, left, says China has to ratify the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers so that Hong Kong improve its treatment of migrant helpers. With Mata are PLU chair Sheila Estrada, LegCo Member Fernando Cheung, ILO officer Claire Hobden and Elizabeth Tang of HK Federation of Domestic Workers.














By Vir B. Lumicao

Labor leaders are urging the Philippine and Hong Kong governments to do more to protect foreign domestic workers from excessive agency fees and other forms of  exploitation.

Hong Kong legislators, for their part, said they would push measures that would give more teeth to the law prohibiting agencies from charging domestic workers more than 10% of their first monthly salary, or $430, as commission.

The statements were made during the launch on Oct. 30 of “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” a research on Filipina helpers who were victims of illegal fees and abusive employers.

A documentary film on the report was also shown at the event held at the Hong Kong Teachers’ Union in Yau Ma Tei, and attended by about 100 workers, supporters and media people.

The research, made jointly by the Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong, or PLU, and Hong Kong Federation of Domestic Workers, or FADWU, involved in-depth interviews with 68 helpers who were victimized by agencies in the Philippines and in the territory.

“Our research clearly demonstrates that a significant number of agencies are systematically charging Filipino migrant domestic workers fees well in excess of the legal maximum. Yet, very few are ever charged in the Philippines or Hong Kong,” said Shiella Estrada, chair of PLU, which published the report.

The PLU said 84% of the Filipina helpers interviewed paid an average of Php52,644 in fees to Philippine agencies despite a government ban on placement fees. The agencies also forced experienced workers to undergo training for bigger profits, Estrada said.

Norma Muico from Rights Exposure who headed the PLU research said that despite claims of protecting the workers’ rights, the Philippine and Hong Kong governments have “failed to adequately monitor, prosecute and punish agencies that act illegally.”

She said that for 2014 and 2015, the HK Labour Department secured only 10 convictions for overcharging, and the agencies found guilty of excessive fee collection and unlicensed operation were fined only $1,500 to $45,000.

LegCo member Fernando Cheung said the corruption in the recruitment trade seen 20 years ago is still “widespread…with blatant violation of the law in placement, inspections, and importation of migrant workers.”

He said even those recruited in Hong Kong who choose to exit to Macau are charged excessive fees. He rued the exploitation of migrant workers by employers and agencies, saying that despite the disrepute that the Erwiana case brought upon Hong Kong, its people still treat migrant workers inhumanely.

“Without public concern and without sufficient pressure, we will continue to see these problems. So I think we really have to find ways to mount a social movement. It is not only changing or amending the law, one way to crack the nut is to press the government to exercise what it has to do and go after these employment agencies… and charge them according to the law,” Cheung said.

Joshua Mata from SENTRO said the workers should unionize so they are better protected.
“Unless they unionize, domestic workers cannot really access all the rights that even legislation cannot give them,” he said.

He also said China should ratify ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic helpers so Hong Kong is also bound by it.

Claire Hobden from the ILO Decent Work for Domestic Workers unit said only 10% of the world’s domestic workers enjoy full labor protection, and “yet they work the longest hours without sitting down to rest”.

“Of the 67 million domestic workers worldwide, 11 million are migrants and 20% of these migrant domestic workers are in East Asia. Yet Asia is a region where domestic helpers enjoy little protection,” Hobden said.

Also present were LegCo member Leung Kwok-heung and former legislators Lee Cheuk-yan and Emily Lau.

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