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The New Standard Employment Contract

22 March 2017

By Cynthia Tellez

The “blue-colored” Employ-ment Contract for a Domestic Helper Recruited from Outside Hong Kong is the latest version of the standard employment contract for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. The Immigration Department that produces this set of contract no longer accepts the older, green-coloured one when applying for a working visa.

Almost all the clauses from the previous employment contract are included in the new standard contract. But a major clause is added and this is in relation to window cleaning being required by some employers for domestic workers to do as part of their household duties.
What does the contract say?

On page 3 of the blue contract, which is the Schedule of Accommodation and Domestic Duties, Item no. 6 states that:
“When requiring the Helper to clean the outside of any window which is not located on the ground level or adjacent to a balcony (on which it must be reasonably safe for the Helper to work) or common corridor (“exterior window cleaning”) the exterior window cleaning must be performed under the following conditions:—
(i) the window being cleaned is fitted with a grille which is locked or secured in a manner that prevents the grille being opened; and
(ii) no part of the Helper’s body extends beyond the window ledge except the arms.”
In other words,employers will not be able to make domestic workers clean the outside of the windows unless the residential house is on the ground floor or next to a balcony or corridorwherein the domestic worker can stand safely. If the flat is on a higher floor, the window must belocked with a secured, possiblycrisscrossed or parallel, iron bars that allowno part of the body to be extended outside the window except the arms.

The inclusion of this new clause in the standard employment contract is the result of several news reports of FDWs falling accidentally while cleaning the outside portion of windows. This was also the result of protest actions by FDWs through their organizations. In one of the meetings called by the Labour Department with NGOs and migrant groups, the issue of dangerous tasks such as cleaning of outside windows was strongly demanded to be taken seriously and acted upon immediately. The Labour Department was obliged to fast track their decision regarding this matter.

It is possible that some employers may not be happy with the clause on window cleaning. They may still demand their foreign domestic worker to clean the windows even if the physical set up of the house or flat does not satisfy the contract’s provision. Some may still force their domestic worker under threat of termination of contract. If this is the case, you can politely explain to your employer the new clause on window cleaning for their enlightenment. If the employer insists, explain to them the consequences of their action: that they will be violating a clause in the new standard contract.
It might also help if you ask the authorities for advice on how to handle and make the employer abide by the contract. If the employer still insists and threatens you with termination of contract, you can file a complaint at the Labour Relations Division (LRD) of the Labour Department. LRDs have areas covered and you can find it in their website or call their hotline: 2717-1771.

If you are having difficulty connecting, you can call the MFMW at 2522-8264. If finally the employer terminates the contract, the employer maysay thatyou refused to follow the order.But if the order is a violation of the contract, that will still amount to breach of contract on the part of the employer.

It is therefore important that for those who are applying for a job who are already in Hong Kong can sit with their prospective employer and go through the clauses in the contract before signing. You can discuss and reach an understanding of the content, the clauses and certain rules and if there are gray areas or portions that are unclear to you, you can consult service providers like the MFMW. This way, you are able to clarify matters, get to understand certain rules and are on the same level of understanding with your employer.

If you were able to discuss it before you signed the contract, you can remind them and bring their attention to Clause #6 of page 3 of the contract. If you didn’t have that opportunity to discuss beforehand, this might be your chance and so grab it!

This development is a step forward. The accidents that happened in relation to window cleaning are not isolated cases nor should be treated as “very few”. Lives of people are at stake and the repercussion is extended to the families back home.

Welfare committees of different organizations and unions of domestic workers should include in their know-your-rights training seminars this new clause in the contract. Treat this as a major additional clause. They should discuss the strict requirements discussed earlier to also better inform their employers.

Several lives were wasted because of the lack of proper concern to one of the most vulnerable section of the Hong Kong society.

Now that finally a precautionary measure is put in place, we should pay due attention in spreading this information to all the domestic workers.

Measures have to be drawn on the systematic dissemination of the information. This is to save another life as you avoid unnecessary exposure to a dangerous kind of work that is now formally prohibited.

This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.

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