The Hong Kong government has made plans to strengthen the regulatory regime for employment agencies, which may better protect the labour rights of the city’s migrant domestic workers.
In his final Policy Address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Wednesday that the Labour Department plans to introduce an amendment bill this year to complement a newly promulgated code of practice for employment agencies. If passed, the amendment will provide the legal basis for enforcing the code, which is legally non-binding.
The code was promulgated in response to public concerns, especially those from job seekers and “with particular regard to the situation of foreign domestic helpers,” the department wrote in the draft code released last April.
On Wednesday, Leung specifically mentioned Hong Kong’s large population of foreign domestic workers in his announcement. Many domestic workers rely on employment agencies to find jobs in the city.
The department also plans to impose heavier penalties on employment agencies that overcharge jobseekers or operate without a licence, Leung said.
The news came months after migrant worker rights groups called on the government to legislate the code of practice.
Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body told HKFP that while the announcement was “somewhat positive,” it was also long overdue.
“Legislation should have been introduced much earlier [than] what they have promised, not three and a half years after Erwiana’s horrific case,” he said.
In a high-profile human rights abuse case in 2014, Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was found to have sustained extensive injuries caused by her employer. After pictures of her injuries went viral, she became the face of Hong Kong’s migrant rights movement.
In response to pressure from local and international human rights organisations, the Hong Kong government introduced measures – including the code of practice – with a view to offer better protection for the rights of domestic workers.
“We hope that this will not be just another government media hype and it should respond to the longstanding demands of migrant domestic workers’ organisations and advocates,” Villanueva said.
Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are susceptible to forced labour and other human rights violations. In a landmark judgment last year, the High Court ruled that the government had failed to fulfil its obligations under the Bill of Rights Ordinance in denying protection to a victim of human trafficking and forced labour.
Local rights groups have been calling on the government to do more to end “slavery-like practices” of exploiting migrant domestic workers.
There are more than 350,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong serving over 280,000 households, according to the government.