By law, employment agencies in Hong Kong are only allowed to charge foreign domestic helpers no more than 10% of their first month wage as placement fees. However, some agencies charge the domestic helpers illegal fees directly, and many employers have a limited knowledge of such practice because it causes no additional costs to them.
Such practices place domestic helpers at risk of debt bondage and forced labour. While the Hong Kong Government, trade unions and civil society have been working to address the practice of charging illegal fees, employers could contribute to reducing the illegal practices as they are the ones who select the agencies they work with.
In 2017, the International Labor Organization (ILO) developed an intervention in partnership with HelperChoice to increase employers’ awareness on illegal fees which are charged by intermediaries to foreign domestic helpers. The results of the campaign show that there is much more work to be done besides raising employers’ awareness if we want to have them more engaged in fighting against employment agencies’ illegal practices. Good intentions are not enough to see this action through.
As an employer, I want to help fight illegal fees, but how?
To encourage fair domestic helper recruitment, you can
- Use an ethical employment agency that does not charge more than the legally allowed placement fees. HelperChoice is a fair company which fights against illegal fees: domestic helpers register on the company’s online platform to seek a job without any charges, and the agencies referred by HelperChoice for work visa processing have promised that they conduct their business with the highest standards of fairness, integrity and honesty.
- Open up a dialogue with your helper about their financial concerns. We also know that domestic helpers have had several experiences with agencies before working in your homes. You can help fight illegal fees simply by asking your domestic helper if she has ever been charged illegal fees.
Opening up a dialogue with your domestic helper may seem difficult at first.
Here are some tips to help get the conversation started:
- Find a quiet moment when you are both home, for instance just after dinner.
- Ask your domestic helper how she is doing and if she has a few minutes to talk.
- Reassure your domestic helper that there is nothing wrong.
- Explain that you have recently heard that some agencies charge high fees to domestic helpers, and that this practice is illegal. Tell her that you would like to try to help fight against these fees. Then, ask: “Has an agency ever charged you fees?”
- If she says yes, ask for the name of the agency, and how high the fees were – if she does not feel comfortable answering, there is no need to push. Suggest that she reports the case at the Hong Kong Labour Department via their 24 hour hotline: +852 2717 1771 (handled by 1823), email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on their website. Reassure her that you will support her if she wishes to take legal action.