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LD nixes bid to excuse employers from paying DHs’ medical bills

06 December 2017

Labour and Welfare
Secretary Law Chi-kwong
The Hong Kong government says there is no reason to change labour laws making employers liable to pay for the medical expenses of their foreign domestic helpers, either through sickness or injury, during the period of employment.

This was emphasized by Labour and Welfare Secretary Law Chi-kwong in response to a question by LegCo Member Michael Tien in the Legislative Council on Nov 15.

“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,” Law said.

Tien suggested employers have no authority to stop helpers from going out during bad weather or interfere with their engagement in high-risk activities. 

“If FDHs fall sick or sustain injuries due to accidents… their employers bear their medical expenses as per the contracts. However, insurance policies on employees’ compensation 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,” Tien said.

His question came in the wake of employers expressing concern on social media over their maids doing high-risk activities like cliff-jumping and insisting on going out during typhoons, saying they will have to bear the consequences in case of accidents.

Tien asked whether the Government will consider enacting law that require FDHs to take out medical insurance policies on their own, or employers must take out such insurance policies for their FDHs, to offer protection for both parties.

In his response, Law reiterated that Clause 9(a) of the employment contract for FDHs requires that when a helper is ill or suffers from personal injury, work-related or not, during her employment, the employer must provide free medical treatment including medical consultation, maintenance in hospital and emergency dental treatment. 

However, the FDH shall accept medical treatment by any registered medical practitioner as provided by the employer. 

In addition, all employers are required under the Employees’ Compensation Ordinance to take out employees’ compensation insurance for their workers to cover their liabilities under the law if their workers are injured at work.

“As explained above, it is a legal requirement for all FDH employers to take out EC insurance for their FDHs,” Law said. 

He said the Labour Department does not maintain information about the detailed coverage of the insurance taken out by individual employers for their FDHs, including whether insurance products cover 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,” the labour secretary said. 

He said the SEC has clearly defined the responsibilities of employers, such as stipulating that employers are not responsible for medical expenses when helpers leave Hong Kong of their own volition and for their own personal purposes.

Law said there is additional coverage for workers, including expenses for hospitalization and surgery, outpatient clinic and dental care. Several comprehensive FDH insurance products offer coverage on personal accident, expenses for helpers to return to their place of origin owing to serious illness or injury, and expenses for hiring a replacement helper. 

In taking out FDH comprehensive insurance products, employers should carefully compare the products offered by different insurance companies and examine the policy terms to have a clear understanding of the coverage.

For example, Law said, employers should find out whether the policy terms have made it clear that accidents during inclement weather would not be covered. 

He said the existing arrangement has struck an appropriate balance between the requirement for employers to provide reasonable protection for their FDHs, and the affordability of such an expense.

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