Why is it a problem?
Hong Kong, one of the biggest unscrupulous employment agencies (EAs) hub in Asia, has a problem with cracking down on their rampant abuses to the foreign domestic workers (FDWs). Upon investigations, over 70% of them are law-breaking, including chop renting, operating without a license, overcharging, and withholding documents etc. Regarding its inherently bad business practices, the government is reluctant in prohibiting EAs’ problematic operations, with the evidence of stagnant progresses of the Ordinance.
Recalling my own experience in hunting the agencies, I remember sketchy agencies taking place in residential apartments which appeared as homes or FDWs’ boarding house. The investigations make me wonder why these shabby agencies can even exist in the first place and survive for so long. That feeling of vulnerability hits me when we know what they do are illegal or inappropriate without doubt but seems nothing we can do about it.
 Some grey areas are to be clarified: e.g. whether individuals who are not employees of a licensed EA but are involved in any way in the operation of the EAs would be regarded either as an associate or a person operating an EAs without a license for the purpose of prosecution under section 51(1)(b) of the Employment Ordinance.
In Singapore, direct hiring is prominent as there are many packages in the market with fees and extensive data of helpers profiles stating out transparently. It has become increasingly easier as Ministry of Manpower has been introducing new tools such as eService which enables employers to apply online for a work permit for the candidate of their choice without the assistance of an agency.
In Hong Kong, “MamaHelpers” is also praised to be advocating direct hire. Yet upon closer look, some agencies being stated on its platform, are still illegal. The platform has not demonstrated its responsibility to conduct due diligence to find ethical partners. Also, employers always find the paperwork and administrative stuff troublesome, and may still need to find an agency to process the screening, papers with the Consulate even in direct hiring.
Although the long-standing position of EAs cannot be changed overnight, we should continue cracking down illegal agencies and facilitating informed decisions of FDWs or employers. In the long term, with the propaganda of direct hire, EAs’ strong network and eco-system can be disrupted.
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