This past Sunday domestic workers and their local supporters marched in Hong Kong to protest the overcharging of fees and exploitation by unscrupulous recruitment agencies. One of their key demands to the government was to make the new voluntary Code of Practice for Employment Agencies (COP) required by law so that domestic workers are better protected.
The South China Morning Post reports:
“The problem is that the COP is not law. We need the Hong Kong government to make it law,” Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Unions chairwoman Phobsuk Gasing said.
They handed letters of protest and a list of demands to representatives from all four consulates and the government. The city’s 360,000 domestic helpers mainly come from the four countries whose consulates the protesters visited, plus Indonesia.
Agencies that break the COP can get warning letters, be fined, or lose their licence. But critics have derided the code as a “toothless tiger”, saying unscrupulous practices have continued since it came in.
Gasing added that migrant domestic workers are often drowning in debt, expected to pay up to HK$20,000 in fees, which could take up to seven months of wages to pay off.
The protest, coinciding with International Migrants Day on Monday, marched began from Tsim Sha Tsui, near the Nepalese consulate and continued to the consulates of Thailand, the Philippines, and India.
Former Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan joined the protest and explained that domestic workers have little support if they do choose to report abuse. He recommends that the government create a shelter for abused domestic workers and eliminate the rule that they must return to their home country if they do not get a new job within two weeks of filing a complaint.
A spokesman for the Labor Department says the the government is fully committed to curbing abuses. “The government will spare no efforts to stamp out any abuse and exploitation of [domestic workers] and bring those responsible to justice,” she said.
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