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Helpers taught finer points of HK employment law in rights seminar

05 June 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao
Image may contain: 29 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Participants, lecturers, hosts and other guests pose for a picture after the rights seminar

A domestic worker has the right to discontinue serving the husband of a contractual employer if a couple separates and the man lives in a new address. If the man is the employer, she can also refuse to work for the wife in the contractual address.

This and other issues concerning employment were discussed in a “Know Your Rights” seminar held at the Consulate on Jun 2 and attended by more than 40 domestic workers.
The two-hour seminar was conducted by Help for Domestic Workers (formerly Helpers for Domestic Helpers) in cooperation with the Consulate. Consul Paulo Saret, head of the assistance to nationals section, organized the seminar.

Betty Wagner, Help case manager, said the helper can be put in a legal quandary when the employing couple breaks up.

She said this in reply to a maid who asked if it was right for the wife, the contractual employer, to send her to work for her estranged husband who has moved out of the conjugal dwelling.
“If the plan is for the helper to go and work for the employer’s husband, the contract has to be terminated and her husband has to sign a contract with you,” Wagner told the helper.

She said it is illegal for the helper to continue her contract in the husband’s new abode, or to remain and work for the wife in the contractual address if she is not her legal employer. Both ways, she has the right to refuse, Wagner said.
She also said that if the helper can’t explain her position to the employer, she should consult their group or the Consulate so either entity can talk or write the employer to explain why such a situation violates the Employment Ordinance.

Other issues raised by the attendees included long service award, who pays for a helper’s visa extension, and non-renewal of contract of a pregnant worker.

A worker who has served one employer for almost seven years asked if she was entitled to long service pay if she decided not to renew her contract.

Wagner’s reply was “No.”

She said Hong Kong law does not compel employers to pay for long service if it is the worker who terminates or does not renew the work contract. The only exemption to this is when the worker reaches the retirement age of 65 or is physically unable to work anymore.

“This makes me sad because no one wants to work until 65. You want to return home to the Philippines and spend time with your husband and your children,” Wagner said.

She also said that though some employers pay long service in advance, this can be claimed back through the Small Claims Tribunal if the worker terminates the contract later on.

A helper who is six months pregnant asked whether her employer should pay for her medical expenses. She said she will finish her contract in July and was worried because her employer is not renewing their contract and has already hired a new maid.    

The helper said she informed her employer verbally on Apr 25 and personally gave her a medical certificate stating she is pregnant.

Wagner said if the employer’s reason for not renewing the contract was her pregnancy, the maid should gather evidence because it constitutes discrimination.

Corporate lawyer Alice Ooi, a pro bono volunteer at Help, said she will take up the case if the helper feels she is being discriminated against by her employer due to her pregnancy, and could gather evidence to support this claim.

Consul Saret thanked Help for holding its first rights seminar jointly with the Consulate, describing the pieces of advice given by the non-government organization as “very informative and very practical”.

He said it would be difficult for the workers to assert their rights if they weren’t aware of them in the first place.
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