Service Quality of Foreign Domestic Helper Employment Agencies Varies Unfulfilled Commitments & Continued Delays in Reporting for Duty
The demand for foreign domestic helpers have continued to rise in Hong Kong. Given the strong competition for helpers, employers have no choice but to bear with the problems encountered during the hiring process. Each year, about 200 complaints against foreign domestic helper employment agencies were lodged with the Consumer Council of which most were related to the quality of service of the agencies. In addition to the prolonged hiring process and repeated delays in having the helpers to report duty, some agencies refused to honour its pledge for “100 per cent refund” despite repeated failures in hiring helpers. Some complainants even suspected being deceived by helpers and agencies during video interviews as their actual working ability fell far short of what they said they could do. The related problems were so diverse that they could not be resolved satisfactorily even after the conciliation by the Council. Consumers should make comprehensive evaluation before hiring a helper and check the agency’s reputation as far as possible before engaging it. They should also read the terms and conditions carefully to avoid the risk of encountering any unpleasant experience.
The Council urges the industry to seriously improve its operations, and to ensure high transparency and smooth process throughout the application procedure. In the hiring process, consumers provide their recruitment criteria direct to the agency and select the best candidate from those suggested by the agency based on information related to their work experience, family, religion, educational background, and so forth. The agencies indeed serve as an important intermediate throughout the entire employment period and are duty-bound to help their clients to resolve their problems, especially when the helper’s quality does not match the résumé or when they postponed the date to report duty.
Case 1: The so-called “100 per cent refund” scheme was very restrictive and unenforceable
The complainant believed that the “100 per cent refund” gimmick promoted by Company A would imply that it could offer better service quality. She paid $11,465 to hire a Filipino helper but was soon notified that Philippines Immigration had disallowed her to leave the Philippines for failing to submit a training certificate. Company A then offered to select another helper for free and verbally promised a 100 per cent refund if the second application was also unsuccessful. The second helper, however, eventually renewed her contract with her existing employer instead. As the second application had failed, the complainant demanded a refund from Company A but its staff put up many excuses to decline the refund and even asked the complainant to show the proof of her successful employment of a helper through another agency.
Only then did the complainant discover that there were many restrictions in the so-called “100 per cent refund” policy which the staff had not explained to her before she signed the contract. The matter had dragged on for 4 months, yet she still did not have a helper, she thus sought the Council’s assistance in getting a refund.
In its written response, Company A explained that the “100 per cent refund” policy was applicable only to cases where a visa was not issued by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, and that the 2 failed applications did not fall under the scope of the refund scheme. Company A also stressed that the complainant had confirmed that she acknowledged the terms when she signed the contract, and that the Company had already delivered its services as specified in the contract. Therefore, Company A refused to provide a refund but only offered the employment service once more for free. The complainant turned down the offer and considered filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal.
Case 2: Simultaneous translation was suspected during video interviews to hide the inadequate communication skills of helpers
Through Company B, the complainant selected an Indonesian helper who had stated in her résumé that she had experience in babysitting, could cook and had a good command of Cantonese. The Complainant opted for a video interview to test her competence. During the video interview, the helper appeared to be able to communicate with simple Cantonese phrases and some English words. The complainant was satisfied and paid $10,980 on the spot to confirm the employment. After the helper had started working, she was however found unable to understand even basic work instructions, such as “laundry”, “cook” and “clean”, let alone engaging in a conversation, and communication could only be made via a translation app.
The complainant was sceptical about her qualifications and language proficiency provided by Company B and subsequently unveiled that during the video interview there was a translator off-camera to instantly translate questions and provide Cantonese phonetic transcription for her to reply the questions. The complainant expressed his dissatisfaction to Company B but was told that the Company knew nothing about the video interview as it was arranged by its partner in Indonesia. The complainant therefore lodged a complaint with the Council, alleging that the helper’s performance did not conform with her résumé and that the video interview was suspected to deceive potential employers. He demanded that Company B be admonished and to make a refund.
Company B responded that it had offered a 20 per cent discount to the complainant to replace the helper. Even after another conciliation by the Council, Company B refused to provide a refund and agreed only to increase the discount to 30 per cent. The complainant terminated the helper’s contract and refused Company B’s offer to get a new helper. The Council advised the complainant to consider pursuing the case in the Small Claims Tribunal.
Case 3: Suspected tactics to engage in more contracts but filed to deliver services
The complainant hired a foreign domestic helper from Company C but decided to replace her because of her poor performance. To avoid inconvenience to her family’s daily life and work, the complainant planned to dismiss the helper when the new helper became available. Later, Company C notified the complainant that the new Indonesian helper was pregnant and could not come to Hong Kong, so the complainant submitted a request for a refund. However, staff of Company C claimed that only half of the fees ($7,000) could be refunded according to the contract terms and suggested hiring another helper for no additional charge. One month after the complainant had signed the second contract, Company C reported that the Indonesian helper had lost her Indonesian identity card. As it would take time for her to get a replacement card, the complainant was advised to hire another helper. Soon after the third contract was signed, Company C confirmed the flight ticket and the arrival date for the third helper, so the complainant dismissed the current helper.
On the date she was supposed to report for duty, the third helper did not show up, and Company C explained that there would be a 2 to 3 days delay as the helper had not obtained the endorsement stamp from the training centre in Indonesia. Staff of Company C told her that they had to wait for the approval of the Indonesian embassy and the results of her medical check-up before they could purchase a flight ticket for the helper to come to Hong Kong.
The complainant therefore took the case to the Council, alleging that she had been misled by Company C about the arrival date of the third helper, causing her to terminate the contract with her current helper that brought considerable inconvenience to her and her husband as they had to take turns to stay home to take care of their two children. She hoped the Council to press Company C to confirm the availability of the third helper as soon as possible. With the conciliation of the Council, Company C confirmed that the helper had arrived in Hong Kong and started working.
Consumers are advised to pay heed to the following when hiring a foreign domestic helper through an employment agency:
- Consumers should choose licensed employment agency and if they have any suspicion about the agency, they can make enquiries with the Employment Agencies Administration (EAA) of the Labour Department;
- Agencies cannot evade their responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the helpers' information by claiming that they rely only on the information provided by their partners. If there is any discrepancy between actual ability of helpers and the details stated in the helpers’ résumé, it may amount to misrepresentation in contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO) and consumers can complain to the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department;
- In addition to the service fees, consumers should read the terms carefully before signing any contracts and be sure that they understand their rights. They should also be proactive in asking about the exact date the helper is to report for duty, the restrictions and coverage of the “100 per cent refund” scheme, arrangements in case an application fails or a helper fails to show up, and so forth;
- As employment agencies are normally responsible only for registering the arrival of the helpers, they may provide only limited assistance, such as training, for helpers who have started working but have performed poorly. Poor performance does not necessarily guarantee a refund or an unconditional replacement. Consumers should therefore check beforehand with the agency about the guarantee period, the possibility of a refund or replacement, and the associated cost involved.
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