HK sets window-cleaning rules after maids' fatal falls

From Jan 1, employers cannot force maids to clean exterior of windows in high-rise flats

HONG KONG • New foreign maids or those renewing their contracts next year will be protected by new rules on window cleaning, Hong Kong's Labour Department has said.

There has been a series of fatal falls involving window cleaning and laundry drying by foreign helpers over the years in Hong Kong, where most people live in high- rise buildings.

The deaths have prompted the authorities in the Philippines and Indonesia, the two major sources of foreign helpers to the city, to seek a ban on window cleaning.

Starting from Jan 1 next year, a new clause in employment contracts will bar employers from making their helpers clean the outside of windows not on ground level or next to a balcony or corridor, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has reported.

Mr Eman Villanueva, spokesman for rights group Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said he is concerned that the 300,000 maids already working in Hong Kong have been left out.

"The majority of the helpers remain unprotected," he told SCMP, stressing that punitive provisions were missing from the new clause. "If an employer violates the clause, what is the level of accountability?"

WHOSE FAULT?

The majority of the helpers remain unprotected. If an employer violates the clause, what is the level of accountability? '' 

MR EMAN VILLANUEVA, spokesman for a rights group, on how the new rules do not apply to maids already working in HK.

Commissioner for Labour Carlson Chan Ka Shun said that although employers of existing maids are not affected by the new rules, they might be asked to chip in if insurance companies compensate victims of window cleaning accidents, SCMP reported.

An employers support group has slammed the government's latest move, saying that foreign domestic workers could take advantage of the new clause to quit by telling the authorities they are being forced to clean the exterior of windows.

Some employers might even choose to settle the case by paying compensation as the court deliberates the case, said Ms Joan Tsui Hiu Tung, convenor of the Support Group for Hong Kong Employers with Foreign Domestic Helpers.

In September, hundreds of domestic helpers marched in protest in the Chinese city after several maids fell to their death from tower block windows as they tried to clean them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'HK sets window-cleaning rules after maids' fatal falls'. Print Edition | Subscribe