After relocating to Hong Kong, many professionals decide to start a family. Far from their native homeland, family, and community, many potential parents find themselves needing help in the form of a nanny or domestic helper.
They may find themselves asking a number of questions: Where do I begin? Where do I find a nanny or housekeeper? Do I have to provide working papers? How much do I have to pay? Do I actually have to provide living quarters?
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the issues parents or potential employers may face when hiring a nanny or domestic helper. We’ll also take a look at some of the problems that many migrant workers in Hong Kong currently face, helping potential employers to understand their situation as well.
A foreigner or employer who is interested in hiring a domestic helper or nanny these days will find themselves doing so in the midst of a great deal of political upheaval. The majority of the domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been overworked and treated like modern-day slaves.
Most recently, helpers have organized and have taken their issue as far as the United Nations. Why? These helpers are asking for equality and benefits; they want the same rights as the rest of the foreign helpers in the city and they’ve received resistance from Hong Kongers.
The result, a tenuous situation and the people who employ the helpers caught in the middle.
Getting started can seem overwhelming, but Douglas Bray, the director of the agency The Nanny Experts, shed light on the process saying “I always ask the families who reach out to us, ‘What are your main motivations for hiring a nanny?’ A lot of the time it can come down to preferences. In Hong Kong having a domestic helper comes with some attachments, such as legally, they need to reside in your home. This is a foreign concept for a lot of foreigners… There are plenty of domestic helpers who are living out, doing things illegally, they live in one place and they work several part-time jobs.”
In addition to having a helper live on the premises, parents or employers need to be mindful their objectives. Do they only need a helper or someone to play a role in teaching English to their children? Parents also need to keep in mind that not every domestic helper is qualified to take care of children “… There are many that are capable, but many lack the skill and personality to take care of children” explained Doug.
Regardless of which country you’re living in, it is essential that the domestic helper or nanny’s background is thoroughly reviewed. “When it comes to applicants, it is important that you know that your nanny, the person taking care of your children is clean. There are different paths you can go around to do these background checks” explained Doug.
There are four checks that The Nanny Experts recommend when hiring someone for child care.
Some families or employers avoid agencies and choose to hire applicants from Craigslist. Doug spoke on the dangers of hiring someone from an ad online saying “Here’s the thing I tell my clients. They can definitely go do that and save themselves agent fees, but my job every day is to keep my ear low to the ground. I know of nannies who are alcoholics, I know of nannies who are on probation, problems with the law and families don’t know about it. They were not placed with my agency.”
“There is no guarantee that going through an agency will provide you with a nanny that is a good match for you. However, most agencies can save you the time of having to screen a candidate and they may be better prepared when it comes to interviewing.”
Parents who are considering hiring helpers or nanny need to be mindful of contract and work permit laws in Hong Kong. When it comes to the work contract, employers need to be direct about what they expect from the nanny. “It’s really important to document in a contract the relationship of the nanny. It is essential that the nanny and the family have clear communication and respect for one another. When you write it out and go over the contract together you talk about these things. Communication is really important” said Doug.
When it comes to working papers, experienced domestic helpers, and nannies who’ve been in the city several years may understand how to process the paperwork with ease. So, in some instances, an employer can work directly with a trusted nanny and avoid an agency. Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, manager for the Mission For Migrant Workers in Hong Kong explained, “In terms of processing contracts it’s not too difficult. Many of the domestic helpers, if they go to the agencies they have to pay fees, not many agencies are just charging 10%…”
Employers should also keep in mind that agencies make approximately 10% of what the Helpers earn. The Hong Kong minimum wage is HK$4,210, but there are additional specifications based on the rules from the respective consulates.
Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are entitled to either a food allowance or free food from their employers. The amount of the food allowance foreign domestic helpers receive is legally set at a minimum level – at the moment not less than HKD $1,121 per month for contracts signed on or after 28 September 2019 – and is updated on a regular basis.
You can also opt to give and allowance to cover their food-related costs, meeting their dietary needs.
Long service is the amount you are legally bound to pay to your helper if he/she has
1) worked continuously for not less than 5 years,
and one of the following applies.
i) is dismissed or the contract is not being renewed* by reason other than summary dismissal due to his/her serious misconduct or redundancy;
ii) is certified by a registered medical practitioner or a registered Chinese medicine practitioner as being permanently unfit for the present job and he/she resigns;
iii) aged 65 or above and he/she resigns on the ground of old age; or
iv) dies in service.
The following formula applies to the calculation of long service payment:
Annual leave for domestic helpers is calculated as follows.
1 year of service – Helper is entitled to 7 days paid annual leave.
2 years of service – Helper is entitled to 7 days paid annual leave.
3 years of service – Helper is entitled to 8 days paid annual leave.
4 years of service – Helper is entitled to 9 days paid annual leave.
5 years of service – Helper is entitled to 10 days paid annual leave.
6 years of service – Helper is entitled to 11 days paid annual leave.
7 years of service – Helper is entitled to 12 days paid annual leave.
8 years of service – Helper is entitled to 13 days paid annual leave.
9 years of service and above – Helper is entitled to 14 days paid annual leave.
There are approximately 336,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, and the majority are from the Philippines or Indonesia. Parents or future employers should understand the mentality of the people who they’re employing and the cultural differences. Cynthia elaborated on the importance of communicating with the workers saying “It’s important that they [employers] interview several people, they should be clear with them, what they really need. Second, in terms of interviews, that they understand the background of where the women are coming from…”
One thing that shocks and bewilders visitors or those who are new to Hong Kong are the number of migrant workers who congregate together on Sundays. Cynthia explained why this happens saying “They [workers] have no relatives in Hong Kong. They look for their countrymen, their compatriots, there are places where different nationalities congregate, you see Filipinos in Central, Indonesians will be in Causeway Bay, in Victoria Park… The women and men will come together. They don’t have a place to go on their day off.”
Parents or potential employers need to be mindful of the severity of hiring a domestic worker or nanny. They’re introducing an individual into their residence who has their own history and life story.
Whether an agency is used or not, it is important that the worker is respected. In turn parents and employers will have an employee who respects them, their home and their children.