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Unethical Domestic Helper Agencies in Hong Kong

Hiring with an unethical employment agency can be a trouble for both the helper and the employer. As employment agencies profit mostly from agency fees charged to the employers and placement fees charged to the domestic workers, they have to think of alternative, sometimes illegal, ways to earn money.

The purpose of HelperChoice is to eradicate unethical domestic helper agencies and illegal placement fees they are charging, making it fair for both employers and helpers. Also, HelperChoice is an online platform that enables employers and domestic helpers to have the control and freedom to browse through profiles and job advertisements in order to find the right match according to their needs. Such a feature cannot be found when using an unethical employment agency as the middleman will try to hide the process from both parties.

The common practices of unethical employment agencies include:

  • Overcharging of domestic helper placement fees
  • Confiscating leaflets delivered by the Labour Department
  • Providing false information about domestic worker
  • Giving unethical and illegal advice to employers
  • Refusing to refund agency fee
  • Advising the helper to misbehave so that the employer will terminate the contract
  • Convincing the domestic workers to sign up for fake job offers

Overcharging of domestic helper placement fees

In Hong Kong, agencies are only allowed to charge the helpers 10% of their first month’s salary, which must only be collected after the first month’s salary is issued.

Yet, one of the usual means for unethical agencies to scam domestic helpers is to overcharge them placement fees. More often than not, domestic helpers end up sending their first few months’ pay-checks to those agencies, and might even have to take out loans from loan sharks. Sometimes illegal placement fee is as high as HK$24,000. Some of these agencies also confiscate the helpers’ passports as a measure to stop them from returning to their home countries.

See also: Domestic Helper Legal Placement Fee

Confiscating leaflets delivered by the Labour Department

When domestic helpers arrive at the Hong Kong airport, they will receive a leaflet from the Labour Department informing them of their rights in Hong Kong. However, these leaflets will often be confiscated by employment agencies. They often refuse to inform helpers of their rights, so that it is easier to abuse them.

As an employer, you have the responsibility to inform your helper of her rights. You can ask whether she has received the leaflet at the airport and has read and understood it. You can also show her other resources provided by the Hong Kong government.

Providing false information about domestic worker

There are some employment agencies that collude with helpers and give prospective employers false information about the helpers.

For example, to find an employer for a helper who was terminated due to poor work performance, an employment agency might tell prospective employers that the helper is terminated due to external reasons such as employers got divorced. But when the helper starts working, the employer realizes that her skills, in reality, do not correspond at all to the qualifications listed on her profile.

Giving unethical and illegal advice to employers

To show that they are on the employers’ side, some employment agencies will give employers advice that is unethical or even illegal.

For example, they might advise the employers not to give their helpers rest days for a few months or deduct from the helpers’ salary when they make mistakes. Not only are these actions unethical, but they are also illegal.

Note that your helper needs a rest day every week and has a minimum salary. If you want your helper to work on her rest day you cannot pay wages in lieu of rest day, and you must give her an alternative day off within 30 days.

Therefore, do not blindly trust your agent’s advice. Checking the Labour Department website is the best way to look for the right information.

Refusing to refund agency fee

Another practice of unethical employment agencies is that they ask helpers who have better job experiences and language skills to be always available at the agency. Therefore, when prospective employers arrive at the agency, they will interview those helpers with better skills.

Feeling satisfied with the helper's interview, employers would most willing to pay the agency. The agency would then inform the employer who paid that the helper decides to ditch the job offer for some reason, and that the agency fee cannot be refunded. Under these circumstances, the employer will have to find a new helper in the agency who is most likely not as good as the previous one.

Advising the helper to misbehave so that the employer will terminate the contract

It is a common practice that the employment agency advises the helper to misbehave, such as by having a bad attitude, so that the employer will terminate the contract with the helper. There are reasons why they do so.

Firstly, the agency will earn agency fees regardless of how good the helper is and whether she finishes her contract.

Secondly, the employer would look for a new helper again through their agency, so that the employment agency can earn even more money.

For the helper, if they have worked for at least 3 months, they can get a return ticket to their home country and one month’s salary if the employer decides to pay wages in lieu of notice.

However, note that if the worker has been terminated for multiple times, she can be banned from working in Hong Kong. To avoid falling victim to this practice, you can do more research before appointing an employment agency, or directly hire domestic workers through an online platform.

Convincing the domestic workers to sign up for fake job offers

A lot of domestic workers hope to work in Western countries, thinking that the environment there would be better, not knowing a lot of those countries do not have visas for foreign domestic workers.

Some employment agencies exploit this weakness of the helpers and make up nonexistent job offers to helpers to work in Canada or the US. They would ask the helpers to pay for their visas first, but of course, the helpers will never get the chance to really go to those countries to work. The Labour Department has cracked down on and closed down such unethical employment agencies.

What's the alternative?

To avoid falling victim to these unethical practices, you should look out for signs such as the sudden worsening of helper’s performance. You should communicate with your helper as early as possible, preferably in the first week to find out whether she is a victim of unethical employment agencies.

Ethical online platforms, such as HelperChoice, permit employers to avoid middlemen and therefore control the whole employment process. They are the most ethical way to search for and hire a domestic worker.

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