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Hong Kong Reforms Fall Short in Protecting Migrant Domestic Workers’ Rights

FADWU Statement on the Revised Code of Practice

HONG KONG – The Hong Kong government’s recent revisions to the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies (CoP) have been met with disappointment by labor advocates, who say the changes do little to address the rampant exploitation and abuse of the city’s migrant domestic workers.

The CoP was first introduced in 2017 to regulate the practices of private employment agencies that recruit and place foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong homes. But according to the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), the situation has only worsened, with 100% of agencies found to be violating the CoP and over half illegally overcharging workers.

“The CoP is proven to be a failure in protecting MDWs rights,” said FADWU in a statement. “We are disappointed that the government failed to admit it or seek legislative measures.”

One of the key issues is the lack of enforcement, with just a single overcharging case resulting in a mere $8,000 fine last year, while workers were charged an average of $19,000 in illegal fees.

The new CoP revisions have also raised concerns that they may actually undermine domestic workers’ rights. A provision that requires agencies to provide a replacement worker or refund to employers if a helper terminates their contract is seen as deterring workers from exercising their right to leave abusive situations.

“It is misleading to the public to think MDWs don’t have the right to terminate contracts, which is an innate right to all workers,” FADWU said. “It will bring serious repercussions to the society to think that MDWs are slaves and can be easily replaced.”

The group is also troubled by the government’s characterization of domestic workers who change jobs as engaged in “job-hopping” abuse, rather than exercising their basic labor rights.

“If MDWs are treated well by employers, no one will terminate a contract, knowing that if we do, we would lose income when waiting for a visa at home country, and unscrupulous EAs would take advantage of us and charge illegal fees,” FADWU said.

Labor advocates are calling for the government to take stronger action, including legislating stiff penalties for CoP violations, providing mandatory training for employers, and banning the confiscation of workers’ identity documents.

“It is imperative and a real need for employers to understand MDWs’ rights as an employer,” the group said. “The government should adopt Singapore practice to require employers to go through mandatory training and acquire a valid certificate before they can hire a domestic worker.”

With an estimated 370,000 migrant domestic helpers in Hong Kong, making up around 5% of the population, advocates say protecting their rights is crucial not just for the workers themselves, but for the broader society that relies on their labor.

“The care needs of MDWs should also be taken care of by the government,” FADWU said. “The government should take the responsibility and invest in free shelters for MDWs during transition, instead of shaking it off on private households, EAs and individual workers.”

Link to full statement from the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU)