New Documentary Investigates the Illegal Practices of Helper Agencies
A new documentary shows how foreign domestic workers from the Philippines are charged illegal fees by many employment agencies, and highlights that the government is not doing enough to protect the rights of these helpers.
The documentary, called ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’, investigates the unethical activities of many employment agencies in Hong Kong, and shows how helpers often have little choice but to take out loans to pay excessive fees.
This makes it difficult for domestic workers to leave abusive employers, who in some cases also confiscate their passports, provide insufficient food, or even lock helpers in their homes.
The film includes undercover recordings of conversations with employment agencies, which quote helpers fees that are far above the legal limit. It also follows the journeys of helpers who are sent to live in cramped boarding houses in Macau while they wait for their work permits – and are required to pay thousands of dollars before leaving.
The short film and the accompanying report were launched in Mong Kok on Sunday (October 30). They were created by domestic worker unions PLUDW-HK and FADWU, and the film was directed by Ivan Abreu of Blink Audiovisuals and produced by Robert Godden of Rights Exposure.
A number of high-profile guests from civil society organisations attended the launch – including guests from the International Labour Office, as well as Josua Mata, who is Secretary General of Philippine labour centre SENTRO.
Following the film’s launch, these and other guests attended a workshop where they discussed how they could work together to stop employment agencies from overcharging workers, and what the government could do about the situation.
HelperChoice’s founder, Laurence Fauchon, also attended the event. She started HelperChoice in 2012 when she became aware of the unethical practices in the helper recruitment industry.
As a result, HelperChoice does not charge domestic workers to use its online platform. To date, the social-impact company has helped save an estimated US$8.5m in illegal placement fees.
Unfortunately, and despite some progress, the documentary shows that there is still much to be done to stamp out the illegal practices plaguing the industry and to make the hiring process fairer.