A recent Consumer Council survey on 12 licensed employment agencies revealed great variation in the level of service charges and practice concerning associated services such as arranging for replacement and refund.
The survey found that service charges for employing a domestic helper from overseas varied significantly, from HK$1,800 to HK$4,980, depending on the country of origin of the domestic helper. To employ a foreign helper who is already in Hong Kong generally costs more. Service charges for hiring Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers locally ranged between HK$2,500 and HK$4,500, while those for hiring a Thai domestic helper were between HK$3,000 and HK$4,380.
According to the survey, only one employment agency was prepared to offer a full refund if a prospective domestic helper did not show up for work. On the other hand, 5 agencies would not refund in default. The rest would provide conditional or partial refund to the customers.
Among the surveyed agencies, only 2 offered service packages that covered the compulsory insurance coverage newly introduced by the government of the Philippines for its nationals going abroad for employment. Another agency indicated that it would share half of the insurance cost with the customer.
If the employer is not satisfied with the helper's performance, a replacement is guaranteed by most employment agencies, but it may not necessarily come in free even though some agencies claimed that they provide "free replacement".
Document expenses for replacement of domestic helpers, such as contract notarization and work visa fees, charged by the 12 employment agencies under survey varied substantially between HK$500 and HK$3,580.
Similarly, charges for contract renewal differed considerably from HK$1,000 to HK$3,000.
From January to November 2010 the Council received 191 complaints in relation to hiring of foreign domestic helpers through employment agencies. They mainly concerned the work performance of the domestic helpers and charges disputes. The current issue of CHOICE highlighted some typical complaints.
One complainant went through the hiring process two times with the same employment agency but on both occasions the domestic helper concerned failed to turn up. 6 months had gone by since the complainant first approached the agency for service. She asked the agency to refund the service charges but was refused.
Another complainant terminated the contract with his new foreign domestic helper after he found that the helper was poor in child care despite her experience for taking care of babies as claimed by the employment agency. He paid nearly HK$5,000 for air fare, salary and notice in lieu to the helper through the agency for the dismissal. The agency later demanded a further HK$800 transportation fee for the domestic helper to travel from the chosen airport to her home town. The complainant asked the agency to stop asking for money and to explain the discrepancy in the work experience of the helper provided by the agency.
Consumers are advised to heed the following advices when considering hiring domestic helpers through an agency:
- Agency fees should not be the sole consideration when choosing an employment agency. It is advisable to consult friends or relatives for comments and recommendations.
- Check the contract terms with the employment agency carefully and ensure that terms covering contingency (e.g. replacement arrangements or refund) for late or non arrival of domestic helpers are clearly spelt out in writing.
- Ask the agency on the means it verifies the qualification and work experience of a helper and what follow-up action will be taken if the performance of the domestic helper is unsatisfactory.
- The processing of a foreign domestic helper employment takes time. It is advisable to allow more time for the process.
It is an offence to pay foreign domestic workers less than the minimum salary stipulated by the government for hiring of foreign domestic helpers.
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