Domestic workers

Domestic workers in Hong Kong are looking for jobs – what’s wrong?

We sometimes hear complaints that the immigration service takes very little interest in what happens to domestic helpers once the employment contract the service insists on has been signed and implemented.

It now seems unfair. The department is not interested in parts of the contract that relate to anecdotes such as hours of help, accommodation, food or pay. But he fights fiercely to uphold one element – duration.

File photo: Tom Grundy / HKFP.

Due to the Covid, there is currently, it seems, a shortage of aid. This led some potential employers to offer better conditions than the minimum required, and some caregivers wanted to change employers as a result.

This, you might assume, is the normal functioning of the economy at work. A commodity is scarce, so those who donate it become more valuable. This is an example of market forces at play, something our government has always been fond of.

Not, it seems, with regard to foreign women on the standard contract. The Immigration Department, according to a local tree carcass, is determined to tackle “job hopping – that is, when domestic helpers prematurely terminate their employment contract or deliberately perform poorly to force their employers to fire them to change employers “.

Statistically, this is apparently a growing problem, if it is a problem. In the first ten months of this year, the ministry approved 340,000 domestic worker visas, of which 10,153 involved “premature” changes of employer.

Domestic help from Hong Kong meeting in the center on Sunday, May 31, 2020. File photo: May James / HKFP.

Some 4,400 cases were “suspected of changing jobs” (up from 1,776 cases last year) and 1,748 were refused visas on this basis, up from 319 last year.

The example proposed by the spokesperson for the department was as follows: “For example, the department received a premature termination of the contract earlier, claiming that she had been treated badly… after contacting the original employer, the officers found that the assistant had asked for a pay rise. and quit after finding a new employer. As a result, his compensation and visa application were denied.

As a means of detecting abuse, this is hopelessly one-sided. “In suspected cases,” the department spokesman said, “the department will contact the employer to find out the reason for the early termination and deny visa applications in the event of a confirmed job change.”

It is certainly a fairly naïve way of dealing with the matter. After all, the employer has its own interests to consider. He wants to hire another assistant. So if he’s contacted by the ministry, he won’t say, “I don’t know why she left. But the fact that we expected her to work 16 hours a day and sleep with the dog may have had something to do with it. Much easier to tell that she had another job offer, although it was a puzzle why the assistant should have shared this interesting information with her ex-employer.

Indonesian domestic workers on their day off in Victoria Park. Photo: Candice Chau / HKFP.

The standard contract is interesting in terms of termination. The employer has a wide range of options – disobedience, conduct “incompatible with the genuine and faithful performance of his duties”, dishonesty, being “habitually negligent in his duties, and any other grounds upon which the employer would be entitled to. terminate without notice at common law.

The employee’s options are more limited. They begin with: “if he reasonably fears a physical danger by violence or illness which was not expressly or implicitly provided for in his employment contract”.

I don’t know what went through the mind of the person who wrote this, which comes from the “Explanatory Notes” from the Immigration Department. Does the ministry believe that some contracts expressly or implicitly oblige domestic helpers to endure violence or illness?

Then we are offered “ill-treatment”, which is not defined, and the common law thing.

This, however, appears to be a rather poor explanatory note. In the Ministry’s Employer FAQs, it says that “an employer and his assistant can terminate the contract before it expires by giving at least one month’s written notice or by paying the other party one month’s salary. . “

Calls from the migrants ‘group for better protection of migrants’ rights. Photo: Candice Chau / HKFP.

This is the usual arrangement for most of us and I don’t see why the department should abuse its work visa powers to prevent foreign domestic helpers from doing the same. Without a doubt, it is very inconvenient for some employers to lose their help prematurely. But it is a hazard of employment in general. Just when you’re happy with the new recruit, you get a slap from the invisible hand and she leaves for other work. As Saki wrote: “The cook was a good cook, as cooks do; and as the cooks go, she is gone.

Rich people have complained for centuries about the difficulty in finding and keeping servants. It is not for the Immigration Department to protect the interests of employers by punishing employees who quit to go to a better job. Job hopping is not illegal. Paying an assistant more than the stipulated minimum is not illegal either.

And given the government’s dismal record in protecting, or rather unprotecting, the interests of foreign domestic helpers, so the provisions of the standard contract are in many households an entertaining work of pure fiction, the right to changing employers is probably the best protection they have.

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