ExCo endorses two-year maid levy waiver

Updated: 2008-07-31 07:20

By Louise Ho(HK Edition)

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The Executive Council (ExCo) yesterday endorsed to suspend the foreign domestic helper levy for two years starting tomorrow. Employers of these helpers will not have to pay the levy for up to 47 months.

The levy suspension will be applicable for helpers whose visas are issued by the Immigration Department between August 1 and July 31, 2010.

The waiver will cover contract renewal as well.

Employers of helpers whose visas were granted before August 1 will still have to pay the levy.

Under the Employees Retraining Ordinance, employers have to pay a levy of HK$9,600 for each contract.

Announcing the levy suspension yesterday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung said the government has introduced measures to minimize the impact of early contract termination on the helpers.

The Director of Immigration will allow advanced renewal of contracts during the suspension period, he said.

In such case, the helpers will not need to leave Hong Kong when the old contracts end. But the levy the employer has already paid will not be refunded.

"The measure can really benefit and protect the interests of foreign domestic helpers," he said.

A government source reiterated that in case of early termination of contract, benefits for maids listed in the contract will still have to be provided on a pro-rata basis.

Cheung stressed that the levy waiver is a temporary relief measure that caters for the middle class and the levy will resume.

With the levy, the Employees Retraining Board has helped over 1.3 million local workers acquire new skills to adjust to changes in the economy, he said.

"In the long run, levy collection is essential in ensuring steady and sufficient financial resources for the board to enhance the employability of the local workforce so as to maintain Hong Kong's competitiveness," he said.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said they will impose a quota on visa application as of tomorrow.

They will flexibly deploy their staff and adopt contingency measures to handle the applications, the spokesman said.

Joseph Law from the Hong Kong Employments of Domestic Helpers Association said more employers will benefit from the levy waiver now that early termination of contract is allowed.

However, he pointed out that the measure is most unfair to employers who have paid the HK$9,600 levy before August 1.

He urged the government to refund employers who have paid the full levy.

KK Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong TKI Association, an association that provides support to Indonesian helpers, said he is concerned that maids may be left without any insurance coverage in-between contracts.

"Training local workers is the government's responsibility and should not be shouldered by employers or maids. The best way to is to scrap the levy immediately and no maid will risk being sacked," he said.

(HK Edition 07/31/2008 page1)