Hong Kong lawmakers have urged the government to crack down on domestic workers’ “job-hopping” and step up regulations of employment agencies, proposals that have been slammed by a union as “racist.”

Legislative Council Chamber
The Legislative Council Chamber on November 23, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Legislator Frankie Ngan, a member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), raised a motion in the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday calling on authorities to improve “the policies on foreign domestic helpers.”

“Problems relating to domestic workers have troubled many families in recent years,” Ngan said.

He said his party had conducted surveys last year and the year before and had identified a number of problems, including that the domestic workers’ “[services] do not come as described.”

Frankie Ngan
Lawmaker Frankie Ngan. Photo: Frankie Ngan, via Facebook.

“Hiring a domestic worker is like modern-day arranged marriage. It’s just the luck of the draw, there is no guarantee,” Ngan said.

He added that domestic workers would sometimes take out loans, which affects employers.

“Often they borrow money because they have to pay quite an amount as a middleman or training fee. Their family members may have medical expenses, or they need money for their kids’ schooling,” he said.

“Whether they’re real or fake, only they would know… the government should set a maximum loan amount for a year, [which] cannot be more than two months of their salary,” Ngan added. “This could reduce the size of their loans… and employers would not get implicated because their workers have taken out loans.”

Foreign domestic workers in Central on January 22, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.
Foreign domestic workers in Central on January 22, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Ngan proposed establishing a ratings system for agencies that considers factors including domestic workers’ turnover rate and the number of domestic workers it had matched so employers can make more informed decisions.

The government should also make it mandatory for agencies to issue letters of agreement containing details about mode of payment, warranty and refund arrangements. This would help increase transparency and protect the rights of employers, Ngan said.

Hong Kong has around 340,000 domestic workers, mostly women from the Philippines and Indonesia. They are legally required to live in their employers’ homes and their work includes household chores and taking care of children and elderly.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat, also from the DAB, said she received complaints from employers about their domestic workers “almost every day.”

“If it’s not about job-hopping, it’s that they don’t match their product descriptions,” Quat said. “Let’s not say ‘product,’ but they come to Hong Kong and they don’t know how to do any of the things they said they could do.”

Elizabeth Quat
Elizabeth Quat. File photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

“Domestic workers’ contracts, and domestic worker policies, only help the domestic worker,” she said. “They don’t help the employers.”


Ngan’s motion was based on a list of suggestions raised by the DAB last August.

Ahead of the LegCo meeting, he told HKFP that domestic workers’ job-hopping – of ending their contracts early and looking for another employer – had a serious impact on families. He said he hoped the authorities would consider banning those who prematurely ended their contracts from returning to Hong Kong.

Asked if that was akin to punishing domestic workers and stripping them of the freedom to decide who to work for, Ngan defended the suggestion, saying “nothing would happen if they don’t break their contract” and that employers expected them to complete the standard two-year term.

domestic workers July 1, 2022 Handover anniversary mask
Domestic workers dancing on their day off in Wan Chai. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

At the moment, domestic workers must leave Hong Kong within 14 days after parting ways with their employers before finding a new job. That duration should be cut to seven days, he said.

Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions condemned Ngan’s comments two weeks ago, when he met with reporters to explain his motion.

“We are outraged to hear such a racist and discriminatory comments from a lawmaker,” the union said, adding that DAB lawmakers “appear to target migrant domestic workers with racist calls from time to time.”

“FADWU would like to remind lawmakers [the] freedom to change employment is a right afforded to everyone in Hong Kong under the Employment Ordinance. Both employers and employees have the same right in the termination of contracts,” it added.

“Before accusing MDWs of ‘job-hopping’, the lawmakers should look into the reasons that MDWs terminate contracts.”

Chris Sun
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun said during the same LegCo meeting that the shortage of domestic workers in Hong Kong during Covid-19 – when the government at one point banned flights from the Philippines and Indonesia – had fuelled job-hopping behaviour.

Authorities have been cracking down on job hoppers, Sun said, adding that the Immigration Department had denied 2,833 visa applications from domestic workers suspected of job hopping in 2021 – a nine-fold increase compared to 2020.

“The Immigration Department will firmly reject the applications of domestic workers who job hop and will retain the record so it can be considered if they apply for a work visa or to extend their stay in the future,” he added.

He said employment agencies would entice domestic workers to change employers with monetary benefits, and that authorities had increased their inspections of agencies.

Immigration Department
Immigration Department. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Ngan added that some agencies have “no conscience” and are not transparent about the fees they charge employers.

“[During Covid], agencies used the pandemic as a reason for why employers needed to pay more administrative fees so that the domestic workers can come to Hong Kong quicker,” he said.

Mandatory health check-ups

Ngan also proposed that domestic workers should undergo a health check-up when they arrive to ensure that they are fit for work.

At the moment, domestic workers must undergo a health check in their home country. When employers take their domestic workers for a check-up in Hong Kong, discrepancies sometimes arise.

“I’ve heard of cases that when they came to Hong Kong, it was realised that they have third or fourth stage cancer,” Ngan told HKFP. “We also received a report from an employer who found out when the domestic worker came that she was a few months pregnant.”

chinese hong kong flags national day patriotic
Domestic workers gather on a day off on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

If it was found that domestic workers hid their medical history, employers should be able to let them go, Ng added.

Separately, he said the government should set up a body that can handle matters related to domestic workers, as currently they are split up to be overseen by the Labour Department, Immigration Department and the Consumer Council.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.