Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A bill to amend Hong Kong’s employment law and raise the maximum penalty for overcharging of foreign domestic workers by recruitment agencies was supported by most lawmakers in the Legislative Council on Friday.

Under current labor law, employment agencies are not allowed to charge more than 10% of a domestic helper’s first month’s salary. The Labor Department received 529 complaints on overcharging of domestic helpers’ commissions last year, up from 44 complaints in 2012.

The bill, gazetted on June 16, proposes to raise the penalty for employment agencies that overcharge foreign domestic workers from the current maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,400) to HK$350,000, as well as an additional penalty of three years in prison, Oriental Daily reported.

The bill also proposes extend the criminal liability for those associated with licensed recruitment agencies, including management and employees of such firms.

Lawmakers agreed that strengthening the regulation could raise the deterrent effect. However, some of them were concerned that employees could be made scapegoats for such offenses, as they might have only been following management’s instructions.

Queenie Wong Ting-chi, assistant commissioner for labor (policy support), said agency employees should report to the Labor Department if they find any malpractices, otherwise they could also end up bearing criminal liabilities.

There are about 1,400 licensed recruitment agencies in Hong Kong.

Read: Seven in 10 Hong Kong employment agencies overcharge maids
Read: Catholic newspaper slams government for ignoring maids’ rights