HK may lift ban on mainland maids

By Chen Hong (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-03 10:01
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SHENZHEN, Guangdong - Hopes are mounting that the Hong Kong special administrative region's government will lift its ban on mainland maids after a caregiver from the southern boomtown recently received the first Hong Kong work permit.

Xu Qingling, 44, became Shenzhen's first Hong Kong-employed domestic helper since 1997 when she got a two-year work permit for a job in a private nursing home for the elderly, said Li Zhongyou, deputy manager of Shenzhen Foreign Enterprises Service Co, the city's only organization authorized for labor export.

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Li made the comments at a high-profile farewell ceremony last week.

Xu, who has worked as a caregiver for five years, told reporters her salary could increase from about 3,000 yuan ($455) to a minimum of HK$4,800 ($617) a month working six days a week in Hong Kong.

"The employer will provide me with free meals and accommodation, and every benefit in accordance with Hong Kong's labor laws," she said.

Although her employment is not a breakthrough in Hong Kong's labor policy - the rules exclude mainland workers from becoming housemaids but allow a limited number of mainland caregivers - some home economics industry insiders in Shenzhen believe the Hong Kong government has been showing positive signs of change.

"The case is meaningful," secretary-general of the Shenzhen Home Economics Association Lu Zhenkun said.

"It took just two months for Xu Qingling to complete the whole procedure from application to approval. It would usually take six months, as we have learned," he said.

"Hong Kong's labor policy in this field might soon be eased."

Lu's association set up a preparatory committee with its Hong Kong counterpart, the General Chamber of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, in mid-December. More than 70 home services companies from both sides participated.

The Shenzhen association will lobby the Hong Kong government to permit mainland maids to enter the special administrative region's huge home services market. The sector is valued at more than HK$13 billion annually and is dominated by Filipino and Indonesian workers.

There were 140,000 Indonesian maids in Hong Kong as of October 2010, official figures show. They accounted for about half of the special administrative region's foreign domestic helpers. There were 136,000 Filipino maids during the period, while the remaining 7,000 foreign domestic helpers came from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The Hong Kong government's Central Policy Unit recently finished a feasibility study on allowing mainland maids but did not make immediate policy changes.

Hong Kong's labor department was in talks with home economics industry representatives two weeks ago but no details of the discussions have been released, the General Chamber of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies said.

Hong Kong is about 100,000 domestic helpers short of demand, and the gap will likely increase to 500,000 in five years with the graying of its population, the chamber said.

But the proposal was strongly opposed by those worried about illegal immigration from the mainland and increases in extramarital affairs.

Liao Dishan contributed to this story.