How can I hire domestic helpers fairly?
Why it matters
For too long, employment agencies have been making money from doing a bad job. Employers are charged for bad customer service, while agencies secretly charge domestic helpers too. This illegal practice of charging placement fees leaves domestic helpers in debt and fails employers.
When agencies charge domestic helpers, they are incentivised to place those who are willing to pay, rather than those who are right for the job. When a helper is fired or quits, the agency makes more money by charging replacement workers. Meanwhile, the domestic helper gets further into debt as she borrows more money for a new job.
But there is a better way. When hiring is done fairly, domestic helpers benefit because they start their jobs free from recruitment debt. Employers benefit because the agency is motivated to find a worker who will be a good match for their family. And Hong Kong benefits because a new standard of professionalism is set for all employment agencies.
How to choose an ethical agency
There are many domestic helper employment agencies in Hong Kong, but choosing the right one is difficult. The sad reality is there are many unethical employment agencies operating in Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines. If you choose an employment agency that is incompatible or unethical, it not only wastes your money, but also your time. With this in mind you’ll want to pay attention if the agency does any of the following.
- Offers low prices: If an agency is offering low prices, this usually means that they’re forcing the domestic helper or sneaking in hidden costs throughout the hiring process to make up the difference. When this happens, it can cause a host of problems for both employer and domestic helper.
- Offers an ‘exit to Macau’ option: This exposes both the domestic helper and you to prosecution for violating immigration law. Depending on the situation the domestic helper is leaving, the law requires them to return to their place of origin between contracts.
- Offers unusually fast processing: When an agency promises extremely fast processing times, more often than not, they are just using unrealistic marketing tactics. Mainly because they have almost no control over the processing time. See these articles on processing timelines for Filipino and Indonesian helpers.
Regardless of which employment agency you choose to use, you should as a minimum check that the agency is:
- Licensed by the Hong Kong Labour Department
- Accredited by the helper’s home country by checking the Indonesian and Philippines consulate accreditation lists.
How to make sure the agency is ethical
There are 3 steps that employers can take in order to make sure they are hiring domestic helpers fairly and supporting fair recruitment.
Agencies operating illegally will take advantage of misinformation, and will oftentimes brush over or avoid giving you details about their fees. Stay informed by asking both the agency and domestic helper what the conditions of the placement were.
- Ask the employment agency for a detailed breakdown of costs for yourself and the worker.
- Ask the domestic helper what they actually paid.
- Ask the domestic helper if they have access to their passport or if the agency or a lender is holding it as collateral.
Legally, an employment agency can only charge a maximum of 10% of the helper’s first month’s salary. If you find out that the agency overcharged your helper, it is important that you as an employer report this together with the domestic helper affected.
- Report overcharging or passport holding to the relevant Consulate and Labour Department through the Employment Agencies Portal.
- Be aware that your complaint will be heard more strongly than a helper’s, who often do not have the same resources to present their case.
Many domestic helpers will need the support and reassurance of their employer to pursue a case against an overcharging agency. They may not know their statutory rights and may be worried about needing to take time off from work to attend their court hearings. Encourage the domestic helper to pursue a case by letting them know it is within their rights.
Let them know their job with you is not at risk if they pursue a case, and try to accommodate time off for them in order to attend court proceedings and legal counsel.
Fair Employment Agency got started in 2014 because we saw a better way of hiring domestic helpers. Through the years we have helped thousands of households hire domestic helpers, without ever charging fees to workers, and looking out for everyone’s best interest in each hire. Today, we are more motivated than ever. Read more about Fair here.
Last updated on July 4th, 2023