The government is proposing changes to a code of practice to try to deter foreign domestic workers from switching employers, after complaints about helpers “job-hopping” increased during the pandemic.
In a paper to Legco on Thursday, the Labour Department notes “concerns in the community” about helpers changing employers mid-contract, but adds that the “situation has markedly improved” recently.
The department is proposing a change to the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies to require firms to clearly explain to helpers that applications to change employers within their contract period will normally only be approved in exceptional circumstances, such as if the employer leaves Hong Kong, has financial problems or dies, or if the worker has been abused or exploited.
The department also wants agencies to explain that a helper who wishes to change jobs must leave Hong Kong and submit a fresh employment visa application.
“If there is evidence showing that a foreign domestic helper job-hops, his/her employment visa application will be refused,” the Legco paper says.
The department also suggests that it should be stipulated that agencies must not adopt practices that encourage job-hopping. An eight-week public consultation exercise on the proposals will begin on March 21.
Responding to the plans, Eni Lestari who chairs the International Migrants Alliance said helpers ought to be able to change jobs in a free market and the government should stop labelling this as a problem.
“If other people are allowed to change employers or companies freely, why not us? In our experience, most of the domestic workers would stay with a family as long as they are treated humanely, they are treated properly and they are paid enough,” she said.
“[Domestic workers] don’t do job-hopping, they are just changing employers,” she said.
“There are many reasons why many domestic workers are trying to change employers, the main reasons we find is that they cannot tolerate anymore the working condition inside the employers’ house. Many of them work very long hours, are denied holidays, so they try to move to another employer who gives them better treatment.”
However, Betty Yung who chairs the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, welcomed the government’s proposals, saying the system is unfair.
She said employers have to pay high fees to agencies and shoulder the entire cost of a helper’s application to work in Hong Kong, adding that if a helper terminates a contract before the expiry date, the employer also has to give them the money for a flight home.