Domestic helpers have warned they may apply for a judicial review over a waiver for a levy on them that they say excludes more than 200,000 maids with ongoing contracts.
"The waiver will create an open season for termination, putting our jobs at stake," said Eni Lestari, leader of the Asian Migrants' Coordination Body.
About 40 domestic helpers submitted a petition at the government headquarters yesterday, urging the Executive Council to implement the waiver immediately, rather than on August 1. They may file an application for a judicial review if the government fails to do so.
The two-year waiver will affect employers who sign or renew contracts between August 1 this year and the end of July in 2010, but not ongoing contracts, according to the Labour and Welfare Bureau.
The protesters, including maids from Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Nepal and Indonesia, wearing white masks and white clothes, said the waiver only benefits employers.
About 1,000 protesters from 50 organizations will hold a rally on Sunday. The maids also want their minimum wage increased from HK$3,580 to HK$4,000.
Their minimum pay of HK$3,670 in 2003 was cut to HK$3,270 when the monthly maid levy of HK$400 was introduced. With inflation rising, Lestari said maids are struggling.
When the waiver was announced on July 16 as an inflation relief measure, she said, the guidelines were unclear and had no implementation date. Employers held back on signing new contracts until the date was confirmed, leaving maids in limbo.
Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairman Joseph Law favored immediate implementation, saying the government should announce the details as soon as possible to reassure employers waiting to renew or sign new contracts.
Domestic helper Lea, a single mother with a five-year-old daughter, had her contract deferred by her new employer without them promising to rehire her after August 1. Her visa will expire on August 15.
"I am so worried over whether I will be rehired. How can I support my family if I lose my job?" Lea asked.
Although she is sleeping in her employer's home without doing housework, a growing number of worried domestic helpers are crowding boarding houses while they wait for a new visa.