3 Sep 2013

Domestic Helper - Hong Kong

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2 Sep - Hong Kong Finds New Maids, 20 August 2013, Asia Sentinel
With Indonesians, like Filipinas, having become too aware of their rights, HK turns to Bangladesh. Hong Kong recently began recruiting domestic helpers (maids) from Bangladesh, supposedly as a goodwill gesture towards the poor South Asian nation. To many, however, it is an effort to keep down wages and find a source of maids even less liable to complain than Indonesians, who had already overtaken Filipinas by number. They were considered to be less educated and thus less conscious of their theoretical rights and more willing to accept wages and working hours and conditions less than those stipulated as minimums by the government.

In practice the government, run by officials, many with deeply ingrained racial prejudices against brown Asians (the only ones permitted to be maids) makes almost no effort to enforce its own laws. Those who complain quickly find themselves jobless and with only a very short time to find new employment before being forced to leave Hong Kong. Apart from the low wages, widespread abuse is also made of laws which supposedly guarantee time off, a minimum of private living space, outlaw confiscation of travel documents and require adequate provision of medical treatment, etc.

Just what sort of attitudes the Bangladeshis can actually expect was indicated by the South China Morning Post of August 19 - a paper whose own once-large South Asian editorial team has been ethnically cleansed and mostly replaced by Chinese with lower standards of English. The paper ran the banner headline "Bangladesh maids settle into city life," carrying a long story quoting a maid and her employer who gushed about how nice the other was, the employer suggesting the maid worked too hard and did not want the stipulated day off. In a separate story by another reporter, another smiling maid was interviewed and quoted elsewhere in the paper as saying "Hong Kongers are quite nice. I feel I am quite lucky".

Both stories were clearly planted by Technic Employment Service Centre, which recruited the two maids. The attitude of the reporter for the main story, Phila Siu, was well summed up by its opening paragraph: "Frustrated with hiring domestic helpers who didn't work out, one Hong Konger took a keen interest in the news the city would bring in maids from Bangladesh."

In other words, maids from the Philippines and Indonesia were becoming too demanding of even a fraction of their rights not to be cheated and abused by local employers. Instead of following up the myriad stories of maid abuse, the SCMP has become the mouthpiece for the recruitment industry and employers looking for ever more abject and obsequious servants.

Winter: I saw above and just want to highlight that the situation in Hong Kong is quite similar to Spore. We really need a good government to set things right. Knowing source countries and agencies are so hungry for money, treating their own people like money making machines, somebody (the host country) has to put a stop. We shouldn’t be allowing source countries and agencies to quote any fee they like but the ‘product’ received is defective or not functioning well. The Lemon Law doesn’t cover Foreign Domestic Workers. Yes, we all know Spore is a nanny state, haven 温床 for lousy FDWs but there is nothing employers can do to strike a fairer deal.

Every maid is a willing party so don’t insult their intelligence and ability to compare the costs to remain in home country vs salary and benefits by accepting a FDW/FDH job. We also know that the money both employers and maids paid as placement and agency fee is ridiculous. Simply too high and not justifiable. If maids are not using 7 or 8 months salary to pay maid agencies, wouldn't it make maids work better and feel better? Why placement fee cannot be capped at 3 months? Why maids are forced to pay for in-house training (part of placement fee) in source country yet stepped into our house like sotong or know nothing? Why can't such irrelevant training or falsified cost be scrapped? Why maid agency fee cannot be capped at one month of maid's salary?

Some people die-die must proclaim maids are underpaid so how much is viewed as reasonable? If the source country has brain washed its maids to be greedy/demanding, why can't we have other 'poorer' countries as source country? If source countries are quite well off, means by sending their citizens out to work overseas, they don't see an increment of 100 to 150% in income, then it is correct to say they are underpaid. Staying in home country, the maids probably earn only S$200 but she gets to stay close to her beloved family and friends. If the current pay package is considered bad, why come to Spore or Hong Kong? If salary is so low, then why there are so many still going to HK or flying to Spore? Should live-in maids be paid similar to western income earners? Isn’t that too much to ask for? Is the living standard in both countries same? Is it right to compare strawberries with apples? Which rotten school teach you this is the right way to make an accurate comparison?
I like the following comments:

Malka: At the heart of it all, to me: Workers migrating in search of a better life is part of the human DNA and what makes us today - adapt and learn, improve, use your brains to solve problems. I understand that many maids come from impoverished areas, are ill-prepared to deal with the market system and being so desperate, they'd do anything, often ending up in the hands of unscrupulous agents/scalpers.

The HK govt can't be blamed for such entrants into the maid market, who then fall into a cycle of problematical employment relationships (exploitation being the catch-all phrase.

Couldn't the home govt set up services to educate, initiate and track the well-being of their citizens? The income generated by such workers will pay for it. Oh I know, there is the not-too-insignificant matter of corruption and are they really motivated to help their own poor citizens? There really is a limit to a 'nanny' state.

Although one might argue that govt. sponsored programs such HK's, with their conditions/restrictions on wages living conditions, residency, etc. are not equivalent/fair when compared to other workers, the maid is ultimately a willing participant, she can get immediate income and a chance to improve her marketability.

Don't forget any of these maids can apply to come to HK on their own merits if they don't wish to be 'exploited' under the FDH program. My feeling is that the Sentinel article is less principle than politics - i.e. groups protecting their turf.

1. living with employer saves maid on rental (again, part of contract - don't like it don't sign, then again, in reality, both parties agree to break contract by maid living out). Transport cost and time zero.
2. take home leave and out of HK every 2 yrs
3. C'mon - In reality, many are not continuously 'working' during the 12 hr period. A maid's schedule has to meet the family's - kids wake up early, need to be prepped for school, then are out till 3 pm, then cook dinner, etc. Many maids I know take a few hours off in the middle of the day, or take it easy. If they don't like the set up, they shouldn't sign on.

Are we going to insult their intelligence and ability to compare the costs and benefits of staying at home vs coming to HK (and other countries) to work? On the contrary, because their culture is open, sharing of information and analyses, I find most are fairly clear about what they want, usually with a good dose of humour.

Don't fault the system because it is a pretty good one - find ways to teach the 'babes in the woods' coming into an adult world how to manage. We all do what is needed to advance our career and life goals - long hours, unreasonable demands, etc. and only each can say where to draw the line.

As I said, find ways to educate and support such workers from all angles - home govt, ngos, HK govt, church etc - this has always been the way. Finally, accept that some people may be unsuited to working life, just as there are limits to a person's ability to handle life for whatever reason - these are a small minority and their examples however sad, are aside the main issues.

Marilag: everything are set by the government only the agency violated it.. like the agency in Hong Kong they are not supposed to charge the helper more than 10% of their first month salary, same as the Philippines agency .. but because the Phil. govt now stricted with no placement fee policy .. agency in hongkong looks for other alternative like to hire Bangladeshi.. and about helper working condition listed in immigration policy.. helper must entitled to have a 8 hours rest with 24 hours and most of the employer didn't follow it.. .. if the helper get up early because she need to attain the need of her ward or employer .. she is entitled a couple of hours in noon time to rest if she retired late in the evening.. but most employer let their helper work every single cent for the salary they paid for here.

Punter: I have a helper. It makes my family "operate" smoothly. I pay her correctly and on time. In general, she has a tolerable life here in HK. I hope that she saves enough money that when she decides to go home, she has enough so that she doesn't have to come back. I agree that helpers have a choice not to come here. I agree that working here as helpers is actually better for most of them than staying in their home countries without jobs, or in jobs that are very low paying even in their 3rd world home countries' standards.

Hkwatcher: HK is taking advantage of "diaspora" to solve its own problem of not having a 40 hr a week work limit. Those who come here are dreaming of making a better life back home where the money they earn goes waaay farther than here in our inflated economy.
The problem in MHO is when the governments put themselves into this equation. For example, the Phil has instituted a ZERO placement policy for hiring a Filipino. The ER bears the full burden of the cost. So if the girl quits they are out all that money again.
Why not make it bearable for everyone by charging flat fees to girls...say one month’s salary for each of the employee and employer plus the fixed costs under the terms of the contract? This is too simple for the bureaucratic minds of both HK AND Phil to get their tiny minds around. Then if the agencies don't comply, they are fined and or closed. Done and dusted...

Ranti: That article was pretty smug and neglected to look at both sides. Sure there are people whom abuse the system and do not follow the laws etc. They should be punished. Keep in mind that the respective governments of the countries whom the helpers come from are complicit in all of this. Ever heard of corruption? Agencies are made to follow rules put in place by consulates and no doubt there is some funny business going on at that level.

If anything, I applaud the HK govt for at least setting some rules for helpers once they get here and sign contracts. Paying 7 months or whatever to get hired is no doubt taking advantage of the helpers. Who gets this money? Agents and...............surprise surprise - the corrupt government staff of the countries the helpers come from.

If you hire a helper, then do what's right and treat them with respect and fairness. No more, no less. HK is not perfect, but the growth in helpers coming here indicates that it's not as bad as The Sentinel is painting it to be.

Malka: The Phils govt foreign maid policy is not a HK govt issue is it? If they wish to gain more out of it, they have to face the consequences. Marilag's account gives a good picture of the fears of someone in her shoes FOB (fresh off the boat).
She said the Phils agency originally is the culprit, charging very high fees and it is the rule to use the same agency - whatever, it is still 10%; though challenging can mean a lot of problems for the maids, so must be solved.
Sentinel should perhaps be more active in lobbying the Phils govt to ensure reasonable fees. Beyond that, every worker does make their own calculation whether to go out or not. I don't agree on legislation about 40 hr work week - it won't solve the problem neither for HK nor maids. Take Europe, especially France, all the pro-worker legislation making it harder for markets to solve problems - are the workers better off?

Hkwatcher: The laws regulating the charges or fees are set by the government Not the industry itself. Because of corruption and an inability (or distaste for) enforcing the regulations I am sorry but I DO lay this at the door of the govt. I am simply suggesting that something that is measurable and realistic for both sides AND the agencies (who many blame for all the problems) have the bar clearly set and be made accountable. Receipts and reporting if necessary.

Re 40 hour work week is my way of saying that HK has few boundaries and little compassion for families with children. With a small child attending school and high and higher rents requiring two incomes. Unless one has an extended family living here in HK to offer support. HK does not provide much in the way of childcare, then what is the average person to do?

∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆10 Apr - Extracted these from a Hongkong forum:

As a domestic helper, her words are fair. There are bad helpers and good helpers, be it in Spore or Hong Kong.  When you are too nice to your maids, it could spoil and make them a worsen person. Those who know how to appreciate good employers will remain good and do an even better job ... but how many FDWs do not take things for granted, know how to count their blessings?

Yes, there are bad Sg employers but they get punished and their names were publicised. What about those who are good but were poorly treated by their ungrateful FDWs?  Who came forward to seek justice for such employers?  Who is there to punish bad maids and agencies?  Nobody!

For those FDWs looking forward to work in HK, you need to know not all HK employers are angels, there could be bad ones who make you work long hours, provide insufficient food, make you sleep with 7 cats (my ex-HK filipino said so), etc.  They are still humans, like you, imperfect!  Also, you need to pay agency a fee to fly over. 

Whether in HK or Taiwan, you are a paid worker, not a slave even though your employer didn't give your 8 hours continuous rest each day.  Not happy?  Voice out, feedback truthfully to your agent or discuss with your employer.  Don't give lame excuses or use actions (eg banging tables, act forgetful)/body language to let your employer guess.  Don't pretend you are an easy going and co-operative person by saying 'Yes' or 'ok, mam' to everything and then don't deliver it to show your discontentment.  

Direct-hire filipino, to work in Hong Kong cost about HK$4000, ie only S$630 ... so cheap!  I was quoted S$2208 for direct hire to Sg, before hiring JA.  
DH agency fee is HK$50k, ie only S$1500 ... lesser than what most agencies are charging the FDWs.

What employers should do when you have hired a thief?  Police and MOM will not believe you based on your word.  Get evidence and witness, eg police. 

HK employer harassed to pay for DH.  DH employers in Hongkong are not required to help pay maid's placement fee/loan.  It is Spore that is trying to make us suffer by allowing agencies to get employers pay for maids and deduct from their physical employment, with a term of no salary for 7-8 months (FDWs thought they are unpaid for their services and employers are cheating them).  If FDWs can't work 2 years, we (low to middle income employers) are the ones to suffer more than any of you!

All the while, I thought HK employer must send the DH home if she is not keen to work for her or found unsuitable.  I wish I can have a FDW who is so sensible like Marilyn.  

I hope my blog and frustrations with FDWs, did try to avoid some employers from getting ripped off by smart & scheming maids, knowing all the tricks in Sg, loopholes and about being lobbied by MOM and activists. 

As mentioned, those too fortunate people, have not encountered bad maids, don’t sprinkle salt on our ‘wound’, be a silent reader.

∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞
9 Apr - Happened to read this.  Was posted in year 2011.
Poster said her close relative who had a foreign maid for many years. She is a Filipino who came to Singapore with zero experience. Her relative taught her how to cook and clean. She became a really good domestic helper and cook.

"After 8 years, she decided to quit and go to work in Hong Kong, assuming she can get much higher pay. After 3 months in Hong Kong, she called my relative to ask if she could return to work for her.

Upon her return, she told my relative that she lied to her Hong Kong employer that her mother was very ill, she needed to return to the Philippines. And, she left all her winter clothes behind to give the impression that she was returning to Hong Kong. She also said that on her off days, her Hong Kong employer expected her to stay out of the house and no dinner would be provided. And, she had to buy her own toiletries.

In Singapore, my relative would keep dinner for her on her off days; buy her toiletries and clothes in her regular shopping trips.

Sadly, Singapore has become a training ground for inexperienced maids. Once they gained 2 years experience, they jump ship to work in Hong Kong and Taiwan for higher pay. Now, Singapore employers have to pay even higher salary for inexperienced maids to compete with Hong Kong/Taiwan!"

Winter: It is true that maids are paid more in Hong Kong but the working and living conditions are far tougher, the employers expectations are much higher.  How many can survive if FDWs had been over pampered in Spore and too well protected by MOM's policies?   No maid will tell you she has been pampered in Spore but her actions will show, her words and comparision are the best proof! Throw her to a demanding employer and let her be awakened, read above again or browse the net and search yourself! 

There are good and bad people.  Nobody is perfect because we are human beings.  But to be a better human being (employee/FDW/DH), you can if you want to!  You can change to fit the requirements of your employer if you need that not-too-bad job.  It makes both parties have a better life if both are clear on what you wanted. 

I am a person who believe we must be transparent, don't lie to get a job and treat my house/my girl as toy.  What my FDW need to do in my house, she has to know during interviews.  My only mistake is I didn't ask FDW to write down her committment and what she understand, the job scope that I have illustrated and her expectations.  FDW will say 'OK' to everything that you said during interviews, how OK is OK, you'll know when she joins your household. 

My advice to employers looking for transfer maids, ask them to write in English, don't write for her and ask her to sign because she is very likely to say didn't see, don't understand or don't know what she has signed!  Also, she might get you mixed up with other prospective employer's requirements.  Even with a native agent to translate, my FDWs can still claim don't know .... this is extremely frustrating.  To me, she is a liar, a great pretender!  Having a black and white is your best protection. 

There may be a lot of good employers but in order to protect themselves, they are labelled as BAD.  Bad doesn't mean the maid is abused or ill-treated by employer, it means maid didn't get the 'sweets' that she wanted eg a better life - short working hours, high salary, plenty 'official time-off' during working hours, at the expense of employers.  As long as you didn't give in or match maid's expectations, you're very likely to be tagged BAD or lousy employer.

∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞
22 Jan - My current Indonesian FDW who has 'survived' only one month in Hong Kong fed me some new info. 

Indonesians who fly to HK work as FDH are not required to give a lump sum payment, in advance to maid agency (Sg maid agencies made employers pay for their FDWs in advance so that agencies have no follow-up and admin work).   Her agency charged her for every month that she worked.  Which means, she only gave agency one month HK salary.  If she continued to stay, she'll have to pay agency 7 months HK salary.  Said she looked forward to go back to HK but getting re-employed is not as easy as coming to Spore.  She wanted to have off days from her first month and doesn't like the standard practice of FDWs must complete loan before enjoying weekly off days.  In HK, she was able to use mobile phone to log into her Facebook account.
∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞ ∆∞
20 Dec 2012 - My ex-filipino helper, J managed to survive 10 months in Hong Kong.  J claimed her employers made her share a bedroom with 7 cats!  Told me Hong Kong FDHs were given weekly off days and statutory holidays off.  The expenses incurred during her non-working days were high.  Salary looked high but if weekly off days were taken, it was unsustainable, don't have much money left to send home.  Claimed that accommodation for FDHs were unsatisfactory.  Some employers do not provide accommodation so the salary FDHs received, included finding a place to stay.  Employment terms were not as great as Singapore.

FDHs are not allowed to be transferred to other employers in HK.  If they are fired or decide to terminate employment, FDHs have to buy own air ticket home.  J felt coming to Spore to work is much better than HK.  After completing 22 months with me, she job-hopped to another Spore employer.  She shot me before getting a transfer out. 
My current Indonesian FDW claimed she couldn’t continue working in Hong Kong because her employers made her work for 3 houses.  She was in HK for only one month!

I asked her what time she woke up and went to bed everyday, M told me she woke up around 6 am and was able to sleep around 9 pm.  I thought she left HK, a dreamland for FDWs because she was overworked or exploited.  Based on the time she gets to rest, I don’t think she told me the truth.  Very likely she was fired due to her poor performance and bad English.  HK employers set very high standards, interested to hire FDHs with working experience in Spore and will allow FDHs who really can work well to stay.  Low quality FDHs will be fired and not allowed to be recycled in HK.  The FDHs got to pull their socks up and cannot laze around in order to remain in HK.

FDWs with Hong Kong experience are flying back to Spore, what does this means?
Spore is a safe and perfect haven for FDWs.  Bad, rejected by HK .... our MOM and activists welcome you to work here and bully Spore employers.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, foreign domestic helpers (FDH) must fully pay for their loan before they could leave their home country. There's no such thing as employer made to pay upfront maid loan.  FDHs probably taken up loans from banks, friends or relatives so they had no choice but to work hard and pay back.  FDHs knew they are fully responsible for their own actions and every wrong decisions.  

Hong Kong employers offered high salary and weekly off days on appearance but how much are FDHs protected?  How much money does each FDH send home?  In Spore, FDW's take home pay, if she doesn't spend on mobile phone or luxury, she can actually have a take home pay of at least S$400 ie, whatever base salary the employer agreed to pay her monthly.  FDWs' live-in costs are fully covered by respective employers. 

No matter how bad/errant the maids are, MOM and activists such as HOME, MWC, TWC tend to feel sorry for them and very willing to help.  We have seen on news, they don't mind waste time to help those FDWs who claimed abused, molested or ill-treated by employers.  MOM and activists chose to believe FDWs' stories 101% and only willing to spend 1% or zero time to hear employers.  Employers looked like devils!  Nobody, especially non-FDW employer, wants to believe we are being exploited and bullied.

Do you know some FDWs who claimed ill-treated and not given enough food were actually their own doings?  They only want to eat food they are familiar with.  Refused to touch mee, pasta, porridge or bread.   Some are too pampered!  They are only keen to eat good and expensive food.  Flown into Spore to sponge on employers, enjoy life as much as possible and uninterested to carry out their duties as FDWs.  One of my friends new FDW poured away porridge or simply throw food away and told neighbours her employers didn't give her food, she's starving, asked them to pity her and give her food!

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