Kenyan domestic helper in HK complains over ‘excessive workload’, wields knife at employer before resigning and complaining to Labour Tribunal

Martha, Kenyan domestic helper

28th January 2023 – (Hong Kong) The latest episode of TVB “Scoop” programme yesterday featured a man named Chan who employed a domestic helper from Kenya to take care of his two children. He previously hired a Filipino domestic helper but he felt that she was not suitable for the role. However, the nightmare started after the Kenyan domestic helper started to work.

Chan started by searching the Internet and found that there was only one intermediary company in Hong Kong that provided Kenyan domestic helpers, so he chatted with the company agent Ms. Lau on Whatsapp. He found out that the quality of Kenyan domestic helpers was better than he believed, so he made a decision to hire one. Chan then signed a contract with the agent in March 2021 and paid an intermediary fee of HK$15,000. Unexpectedly, Lau suddenly stated that the Kenyan foreign helper had arrived at the airport and she was not allowed to enter Hong Kong unless Chan lent her some money as proof of fund. Chan was forced to hand out around HK$11,000 to facilitate he to enter the city and also incurred another HK$10,000 as cost for her stay at quarantine hotel.

In April of the same year, Martha, the Kenyan foreign domestic helper, finally came to work at Chan’s home. At the beginning, she was really willing to cook, clean the unit, pick up and drop off the children. Unfortunately, after a month, Martha began to appear awkward and complained about work. She told him that, “After cooking and cleaning, I have to rest at 8pm or 9pm. The pace of life in Hong Kong is too fast!” She also pointed out that she used to work in Singapore and didn’t need to cook for herself, and even had her employer cook for her. Martha only had to help take care of the children, so it was difficult for her to adapt to the work routine in Hong Kong. She then refused to cook and went on strike to protest. Once, Martha even wielded a knife at Chan when she became aggrieved.

One day Martha resigned suddenly and left Chan’s home. Chan immediately complained to the agency but Lau ignored him. A month later, Chan received a letter from the Labour Tribunal. It turned out that Martha wanted to sue him, demanding wages, compensation, air tickets, etc., totalling more than HK$18,000. Later, Chan found many other employers who had the same experience as him on social media. After hiring a Kenyan foreign helper, the other party failed to board the plane due to unexplained reasons. After arriving home, the foreign helper was unwilling to do anything except cleaning. The affected employer also received similar letter from Labour Office. Later, Chan and other employers discovered that Lau was involved in similar cases, so they believed that the problems were allegedly created by her.

It was subsequently discovered that the licence of the only Kenyan foreign domestic helper agency in Hong Kong operated by the person in charge, Lau was revoked by the government last year but the company’s webpage continued to be active. The host of Scoop programme contacted Lau by phone, and the other party emphasised that her foreign domestic helper did not need to borrow any money and she never instigated the foreign helper to sue the employer. When asked why the company was able to continue operating despite the revocation of licence, Lau clarified that she was not running the company, but following up on the incident, because these were customers before the revocation of licence.

In 2019, the Employment Agencies Administration of the Labour Department (LD) received complaints from two foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) against an Employment Agency (EA) called Talent (Kenya) Company Limited for charging them an excessive commission. As the investigation revealed sufficient evidence that a staff member of the EA had overcharged the FDHs, the LD instigated prosecution against the EA staff member. After a trial, the EA staff member was convicted of overcharging an FDH and was sentenced to a fine of HK$8,000 on 31st May, 2021, at Shatin Magistrates’ Courts. The EA staff member then filed an appeal against the conviction and the appeal was dismissed by the High Court on 6th September, 2022. On 9th September 2022, the LD received a letter dated yesterday from the Talent (Kenya) Company Limited returning the EA licence to the LD upon its cessation of business on 4th September. The Commissioner then cancelled the licence of the EA according to Regulation 8 of the Employment Agency Regulations.