Excessive fees collected by recruitment agencies, long working hours and lack of privacy remain top issues facing the city’s foreign domestic workers, NGO Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) has found.

In a report published on Wednesday, the NGO found that nearly half of 646 respondents said they were charged between HK$5,000 and HK$10,000 in commission by agencies – far exceeding the limit permitted by Hong Kong laws.

Migrant domestic workers sit on the street in Central, Hong Kong during their one statutory weekly rest day. File photo: Robert Godden.

Under the Employment Ordinance and Regulation, recruiters may not collect commission exceeding 10 per cent of a worker’s monthly salary. The minimum monthly wage for domestic workers is HK$4,310. Only 4 per cent of respondents said they paid less than HK$431 in agency fees.

90 recruitment agencies were named by those who complained of being overcharged. The report said it is a widespread practice for agencies to charge migrant workers using labels other than “commission” – such as registration fees and training fees – in order to skirt regulations.

The report also found that 21 per cent of respondents paid more than HK$15,000 in fees – a 9 per cent increase in complaints compared to last year’s figures. It said the increase correlates with the spike in fraud cases where recruiters collected large amounts of fees for nonexistent jobs.

“This is illegal recruitment and a component of labour trafficking,” the report said.

Photo: MFMW report.

The MFMW helps domestic workers file claims against recruiters and employers over fraudulent loans, unpaid wages and overcharging in fees, among other things. It said the claims made by its clients last year totalled over HK$3.7 million. It was able to help clients recover HK$3 million.

The Labour Department told HKFP that it has taken rigorous actions against recruitment agencies that have violated employment laws. It prosecuted 8 recruiters last year, 5 of which were convicted of overcharging foreign domestic workers. The licenses of the five agencies were either revoked or not renewed following their convictions.

The department said it plans to table amendments to the relevant employment laws in the second quarter of this year. It proposes raising the maximum penalty of a HK$50,000 fine at present to a maximum penalty of a HK$350,000 fine and three months in prison.

Work conditions

Meanwhile, long working hours and lack of privacy were common complaints made by domestic workers.

Long working hours with insufficient breaks was the top issue facing those surveyed, with 90 per cent of 968 respondents saying that it was a problem. In comparison, 83 per cent of those surveyed last year complained about long working hours.

Photo: MFMW report.

Of those who said they worked long hours this year, 38 per cent said they worked for over 16 hours a day – a slight drop from 43 per cent last year.

One out of every four respondents also complained about insufficient food provided by their employers.

A small number of respondents said their official documents were taken away by their employers or recruiters. Other issues reported included physical abuse, sexual harassment and lack of statutory holidays.

See also: Long working hours and lack of privacy top domestic workers’ complaints, says NGO

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.