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Problems of an employment lottery

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : An employment system that sees workers landed in the homes of their employers mostly sight unseen, really amounts to little more than a lottery for both parties.

The lottery produces winners and losers, as good relations lead to a happy existence, but an inefficient worker, or abusive or over demanding employer cause misery.

To a large extent, it depends on how the numbers come out of the hat. Even though some do meet prospective employers first, overall they are few.

The head of the Labour Ministry in The Philippines, Rosalinda Baldoz, has isolated two highly controversial issues that contribute to perpetuating widespread abuse of migrant domestic labour in Hong Kong.

One is the two-weeks-from-termination and-you-are-out rule and the other a requirement that domestic workers must live in their employer’s homes.

They have long been the target of migrant politicking and community leaders believe that these two issues are directly connected with a third problem, overcharging by employment agencies.

Although both the Hong Kong and Philippine governments have made attempts to clean up this industry, the two-week rule leaves hapless migrant workers at the agency and their employer’s mercy.

Workers are often asked to pay spurious costs, for which no receipts are issued. But there is only one roll of the dice within a 14-day period and a bribe can be far cheaper than going home to reapply, especially when workers still have debts to agencies at home.

So while this racket rolls along nicely, others are equally, if not more widespread. It is well known that around 75 percent of Indonesian workers are not paid the Minimum Allowable Wage, as a result of what is termed discount contracting, where the worker is forced to agree to a cut wage to get any job.

In addition, the Hong Kong government throws its hands up in despair as Indonesian agencies keep worker’s passports. It may be legal in Indonesia, but not in Hong Kong.

It casts a shadow on the claim of the Secretary for Labour, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, that the government is determined to protect migrant workers.

Father Peter O’Neill, from the Hope Workers Centre in Taipei, Taiwan, also points out that many workers are traumatised when they get terminated and two weeks does not allow for this to be dealt with.

He said that he has raised this with Hong Kong representatives at international meetings, but while they do not give a reason, they just say that two weeks is long enough.

Nevertheless, Cheung continues to maintain that the rule is necessary to prevent out-of-work migrants working illegally.

This has been his mantra over the years, even though there is no statistical or empirical evidence available to show that this is a problem.

The only extensive survey was done by Caritas and it found that the majority of the tiny percentage who do illegal work, do it at the insistence of their employers, mostly in family businesses.

However, politicians have worked hard to keep the myths going. When two domestic workers took a Right of Abode case to the High Court in 2011, the Pan Democrats and the Liberal Party were the scaremongers.

The Liberal Party took out an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper, warning that a favourable decision would open the flood gates to migrant workers, who would then swamp the city, social services, education system and spell the end of Hong Kong as we know it.

While Cheung maintains that many employers could not afford for a worker to live out, the migrant community retaliates that they have ever only suggested that it should be possible where both parties agree.


Workers are often asked to pay spurious costs, for which no receipts are issued. But there is only one roll of the dice within a 14-day period...