A new report & documentary reveal excessive agency fees being charged to domestic workers in HK, China

The report highlights how to protect workers’ rights, government agencies in both territories struggle to adequately protect domestic workers from unscrupulous agents.

News | 11 November 2016
Hong Kong (ILO News) – On 30 October 2016, the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong (PLUDW-HK) and the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) launched a new report and documentary, ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’ to shine light on abusive practices of recruitment agencies in Hong Kong and in the Philippines. ILO specialists Claire Hobden and Joni Simpson were there to attend the launch.

This compelling work was based on research conducted by members of the PLUDW-HK in partnership with the Hong Kong Confederation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), Hong Kong Trade Union Confederation (HKCTU), and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF). The report and the film, ‘Between a rock and a hard place’, document cases whereby agencies in both the Philippines and Hong Kong are charging excessive and illegal fees to Filipino domestic workers.

The report highlights how, in spite of legislation and multiple measures to protect workers’ rights, government agencies in both territories struggle to adequately protect domestic workers from unscrupulous agents.

For example, current legal provisions in Hong Kong stipulate that recruitment agencies can charge a maximum of 10 percent of the foreign domestic workers’ first month’s pay, which is about HK$430. However, the agencies covered by the research reported an average overcharge of HK$11,321, 25 times of the amount permitted.

Labour department statistics show that complaints of excessive agency fee have skyrocketed from 102 last year to 483 this year till the end of September, however only 5 of them were successfully prosecuted. One of the key constraints is compiling adequate evidence.

“Many domestic helpers fear if they file complaints they’ll lose their jobs,” said Phobsuk Gasing, who chairs the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions. She said that due to the lack of receipt and testimony of witnesses, the number of prosecutions is very low. Further, domestic workers face challenges in staying for the time required to process a case – once they have left their job, they are not allowed to work while the case is ongoing, yet they must pay for accommodation and for the extension of their visas. These conditions leave them unable to defend their case and ultimately dropping it.

Across the region, domestic workers make a vital contribution to the economy and to the smooth functioning of households. With an aging population, demand for domestic and care work will grow, providing job opportunities. However the quality of these jobs is often well below decent work standards. Trade unions play an important role in organising for better working conditions and respect for human rights. According to the International Labour Organization, many migrant domestic workers face unacceptable working conditions, labour exploitation, and sometimes abuses of their human rights.

On 16 June 2011, workers, employers and governments of ILO member States came together to adopt ILO Convention No. 189 on decent work for domestic workers. Since then, some 70 countries around the world have taken action to advance decent work for domestic workers. Making decent work a reality for domestic workers requires each one of us to play our part. Ensuring effective protections for domestic workers will require continued efforts among workers, employers and governments to raise public awareness of the value of domestic work to societies, the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers, and the importance of formalizing the sector.