19th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) Since her arrival in Hong Kong from the Philippines in 2007, a foreign domestic helper has faced numerous challenges that go beyond the daily responsibilities of caring for the elderly. Over the span of 17 years, she has been dismissed by employers four times due to her gender expression and has had to terminate her contracts twice owing to health deterioration caused by gruelling work hours—ranging from 5am to 11pm, and remaining on call 24 hours a day.

This helper, along with many others, shoulders a significant burden, managing meager food allowances on a salary insufficient to support her family, including two siblings in university. The hardships intensify when contracts are broken, necessitating her to exit Hong Kong and await a new working visa, a process that leaves her without income for months, exacerbating her family’s financial struggles.

In Hong Kong, the term “job-hopping” is often used to stigmatise migrant domestic workers, casting a shadow of unreliability and opportunism. However, this label overlooks the genuine grievances that compel these workers to seek new employment, such as mistreatment, unmanageable work hours, and disputes over wages and conditions. The Employment Ordinance in Hong Kong does provide both workers and employers the right to terminate contracts, yet, the reality of this practice often bends unfairly against the domestic workers.

The accusations of job-hopping not only strip these workers of their dignity but also ignore the systemic issues perpetuated by some employment agencies and employers who exploit the vulnerability of these workers. Reports indicate that certain agencies and employers manipulate the system to their advantage, frequently terminating workers or enticing them with deceptive tactics, all without facing significant repercussions.

Moreover, the government’s implementation of policies intended to curb job-hopping paradoxically punishes those it aims to protect. These policies often result in the rejection of visas for experienced workers who are forced to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucratic and legal challenges, leaving them in precarious situations and vulnerable to exploitation.

Despite enduring such adversities, the spirit of these workers remains resilient. Their primary aim isn’t merely to earn but to secure a safe and respectful working environment. The narrative that most migrant domestic workers terminate contracts for higher salaries is a misrepresentation of their reality. They seek basic humane treatment, safety in their working conditions, and respect for their rights and dignity.

The Hong Kong government has indeed taken steps to address these issues, such as revising the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies, which mandates thorough briefings for helpers about the implications of changing employers and prohibits agencies from incentivising job-hopping. However, while these measures are steps in the right direction, they must be effectively enforced and accompanied by support systems that address the legitimate needs of foreign domestic helpers.

These helpers make indispensable contributions to the households and the broader economy of Hong Kong. They deserve more than just legal protection; they need a system that actively supports and values their welfare and rights. This includes establishing robust mechanisms for complaints and arbitration, enhancing their living conditions, and providing better access to healthcare and legal assistance.