Double Standards

More on Maid Mistreatment in Hong Kong

A journalist once told me that letters to the editor are the last refuge of the anally retentive, a view I’m often happy to agree with despite my reservations about the suitability of any journalistic advice. But today I read the print edition of the South China Morning Post here in Hong Kong and decided that silence changes nothing. Adorning the front page was an article encouraging the employers of lowly paid domestic helpers to cancel their contracts and rehire them to take advantage of the suspension of an employer-paid levy I mentioned recently.

The absolute irresponsibility of that article and other coverage in the issue should be clear from the letter I wrote to the editor a few hours ago.

Dear Editor,

I am appalled at the tone of your publication’s irresponsible lead article on 31 July (‘4 years off maid levy for some’). Suggesting that employers of foreign domestic helpers can “get the most” out of the levy suspension by breaching a set-term contract, which will force a period of unemployment on their employees, is the epitome of callousness. Leaving aside the fact that any such actions would not be “terminations” as reported (a contract is terminated due to wrong doing, not fiscal expediency), the chances of many employers even bothering to secure agreement from their helpers is small, given that the Immigration Department does not require them to fill out the reasons section of the form they submit when a contract is prematurely ended. This fact alone makes nonsense of the Secretary for Labour and Welfare’s claim that helpers should not fear being sacked because of the new arrangements. What will constrain irresponsible employers?

The article on page 3 (‘Latest move on maid levy still falls short, unions say’) compounds this situation by completely failing to canvas views of helpers themselves, which often differ from those of the “unions” that represent them. In lieu of balanced reporting, perhaps this publication should conduct an experiment – negotiate with the two journalists who wrote the articles to cancel their contracts. Force them both to take unpaid leave equivalent to the time needed to process a new foreign domestic helper contract. Would they agree? Only if coerced. And in other countries, that would be illegal. In Hong Kong, for domestic helpers, it’s merely convenient.


Mike Poole

I should add, in closing this post, that although foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong have two weeks to return to their home countries after a contract ends, most are instructed to return to the employment agencies through which they were hired. Many employers physically deliver their helpers to the agencies, which then arrange for near immediate repatriation.

If you think this sounds like unwanted goods being returned to a store, you think right.


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