Driving down fees-to-workers
Debt bondage to recruitment agencies is a primary cause of forced labour across Asia. Desperate workers take out extortionate loans to pay employment agencies huge fees for the chance to work abroad. These fees create debt bondage situations, prevent workers from being able to report abuses and unsafe workplace conditions.
Debt bondage affects half of the estimated 16 million victims of forced labour in the private economy (‘Global Estimates on Modern Slavery’ 2017, ILO).
Domestic workers make up the largest share (24%) of those in forced labour. (‘Global Estimates on Modern Slavery’, 2017, ILO, (p.32)).
31% of domestic workers reported no choice but to stay with the same employer because of money paid for their job even if there was abuse (‘Modern Slavery in East Asia,’ 2016, Farsight (p.28)).
workers placed into jobs fairly.
of Employers would recommend Fair Agency to a friend
of Workers report job-satisfaction
We saw a broken system and knew we could do better.
Fair Employment Agency opened its doors at the end of 2014, offering a new and ethical option for migrant domestic workers and employers in Hong Kong.
Workers are never charged for their recruitment at Fair Agency and employers are provided clarity on the pricing and process upfront. When workers don't pay recruitment fees, they are able to leave unsuitable job situations without fear of financial repercussions.
Setting a new ethical standard means setting a new service standard too. Our consistently high-quality service and transparency have strengthened our reputation and brand over these five years:
Applicants and potentials jobs are vetted and matched to create successful and lasting employment situations
Timely updates are provided throughout the processing period
The agency follows up with both workers and employers and fulfils responsibilities as the agency.
Fair Employment Agency is now one of the biggest Filipino domestic worker agencies in Hong Kong. Fair Agency now has two branch offices: one in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, and one in Tsuen Wan which was opened early in 2020 to better service the Kowloon and New Territories areas.
There are over 400,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and reliance on this workforce is only expected to grow as childcare and elderly care needs persist. Fortunately, there are several organisations doing great work focused on protecting and improving the lives of migrant workers here. We've had the privilege to work alongside them over these years. While there is a long way to go before forced labour is eliminated, the combined efforts of these organisations are moving Hong Kong in the right direction.
Driving down fees-to-workers
Several years back, employers were only paying US$500 to hire a migrant domestic worker. Workers were being charged by agencies to cover the direct expenses of recruitment instead. Filipino domestic workers were paying US$1900 to agencies.
'Survey Showed Varying Agency Charges for Hiring Foreign Domestic Helpers,' 2011, HK Consumer Council
'License to Exploit,' 2013, Alliance of Progressive Labor (p.25)
Fair Agency opened at the end of 2014 and charged employers US$1,000 and workers paid nothing for their recruitment.
Competitors had been anxious about Fair Agency's entrance to the market, especially as a non-profit agency. They were surprised by our fees-to-employers and took the opportunity to raise their prices too.
Our competitors also took note of the way we were recruiting workers. Employers were finding it increasingly unacceptable that agencies were depending on "biodata" of candidates - worker's height, weight, marital status - to vet and hire candidates. We created a worker application process which focuses on the candidate's experience, skills, and job preferences. Some agencies took our application as a template to follow.
These are the changes the market needs, and we've seen the positive impacts already within the past five years:
Workers Pay Less
Fees to workers decreased from US$1500 to US$700. Assuming 30,000 Filipino workers went through agencies in 2019, this means workers kept US$39,000,000 instead of exploitative agents.
Making Migration Work, 2019, Seefar (p.34)
Retention Rates Increased
With employers paying more to hire and being provided with more professional recruitment services, retention rates increased.
In 2016, Hong Kong Immigration saw a significant 21% increase in contract renewals. This was a huge change for a number that had never seen dramatic year-to-year changes. There was also a decrease in new worker visas. This means that people are finding steady jobs, and employers are valuing the people that work for them.
Change is happening
Hong Kong has made significant legislative changes in the last few years to protect workers and their employers.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department, at the urging of the Philippines Overseas Labour Office, made changes to the labour contracts for migrant domestic workers to ban dangerous window-washing of high-rise homes after several deaths of workers.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department changes their walk-in appointment policy, avoiding dozens of workers sleeping outside Immigration every day info.gov.hk
The Hong Kong government launched the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies and maximum prosecution of illegal recruiters increased from a fine of US$6,400 (HK$50,000) to a fine of US$45,000 (HK$350,000) and three years imprisonment. info.gov.hk
The new Employment Agencies Portal by the Labour Department publishes information about agencies warned or convicted of violations. These are steps towards real deterrents to employment agencies acting unlawfully.
“When I was admitted to hospital, Fair Agency kept in touch with me and even bought me apples. When I returned to work, they still messaged me to know my condition. I'm so grateful for all the care throughout.”
- Mary Ann, a worker