The chairwoman of the Association of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, Teresa Liu, said delays in visa processing due to work-from-home arrangements has led to as many as 6,000 foreign domestic helpers staying in dormitories as they await jobs in Hong Kong.
Liu's comments come after it emerged that an Indonesian domestic helper who tested positive for Covid-19 had stayed in boarding houses with dozens of workers while she was looking for work.
Speaking to an RTHK radio programme, Liu said that the waiting time for the visa is as long as two months now due to the official delays linked to government's work-from-home policy imposed as part of the social distancing measures.
She said that in the past, you would typically have up to 10 domestic workers staying in these dormitories as they wait for visas, but at the moment these dormitories are now housing dozens of women.
Liu said several dozen maids represented by her firm have been barred from leaving their boarding house, and are required to wear masks at all times to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.
They also have to get their temperature checked regularly. But she acknowledged not all agencies can be that rigorous.
She said she did not think a suggestion by Hong Kong University microbiologist Dr Ho Pak-leung to carry out mass testing on all maids was a good idea.
Liu said even if their tests are negative, some of them stay there for weeks and it would be difficult to keep track of their condition constantly.
“Now in our boarding house we have to take the temperature even in the morning and in the evening, and then we are not allowing them to go out, and then they have to clean the house every day, two times," she said.
Also appearing on the same radio programme after Liu was the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, Betty Yung, who called on authorities to make sure maids follow Covid-19 measures.
Yung said that she had spotted helpers not wearing masks when they gathered in places like Causeway Bay on their days off.
She said that employers can't force their helpers to stay at home, and all they can do is to appeal to the helpers to take all precautionary measures and remind them of the anti-epidemic restrictions.
Yung also said that some employers are suffering from mental health problems after their helpers insisted on going out on their day off.