Hong Kong government asks Manila for relief for employers

from the SCMP:  Johnny Tam  johnny.tam@scmp.com

Hong Kong is urging Manila to act to minimise the burden on employers of domestic helpers after the Philippines banned job agencies from collecting placement fees from maids, forcing bosses to pay extra.

The Legislative Council panel on manpower will discuss a paper on the issue on Tuesday.

The document was prepared by the Labour and Welfare Bureau, Labour Department and Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

It does not detail what measures, if any, have been proposed to Manila.

Local recruitment agencies said they had not heard anything about it.

"We welcome any measures to ease employers' burden," said Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of one of the biggest agencies, Technic Employment Service Centre. "But we do not know whether the governments have been talking through it."

Employers are having to dig deeper to employ a Filipino - or else hire a maid of a different nationality - after Manila banned Filipino agencies from charging maids a placement fee of a month's salary plus airfare.

Sunlight Employment Agency regional manager Samantha Chan Chui-chu said the placement fees it charged employers had risen from HK$4,980 to HK$6,980 since April, when the ban came in. Bangladeshi workers are charged HK$3,980.

"We have absorbed half the cost and passed only the other half to our clients," Chan said.

Employers, on their part, have criticised the "poorly regulated" services of agencies and domestic helpers.

The Consumer Council said it received 319 complaints last year, up from 260 in 2011. Most concerned poor service and the maids' lack of knowledge about things they claimed to know.

The maids have their share of complaints, too. Domestic helper concern group United Filipinos in Hong Kong said, in papers submitted to Legco, that many workers were "paying the agencies both in the Philippines and Hong Kong a huge amount of money for placement".

Some were "forced to borrow money with big interest or mortgage their properties", it said.