The waiving of the domestic helper levy is likely to start a month early following criticism that the government has left foreign maids in limbo.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said yesterday he is optimistic that the levy will be suspended starting August 1 and not September.
The original plan part of the government's inflation-relief package had been criticized for causing employers to rethink renewing contracts to avoid paying the HK$400 a month levy.
Maids whose contracts expire must be reemployed within 14 days or leave the territory.
Cheung said there will be more meetings with the Immigration Department and a decision needing the Executive Council's approval should be reached within a day or two.
Sources said the department has now extended the 14-day period to ease the situation, with the stipulation that the maids should not be engaged in work or study in order for them to stay in Hong Kong.
Domestic helpers without contracts have reportedly crowded temporary dormitories.
A domestic helper named Dolores said the government did not provide sufficient information about the waiver, causing chaos among both maids and employers.
"Employers have terminated the contracts of about 20 of my friends because of the waiver," said Indonesian Migrant Workers' Union chairwoman Rosemi.
However, according to maids' organizations, some employers despite terminating contracts will allow helpers to stay, but without working.
"They were told to go out during the day and return at night to sleep," Rosemi said.
She said committee members will hold further discussions on the situation, including dialogue with the government.
The September timetable angered employers due to renew contracts as they will not enjoy the inflation-relief measure.
Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairman Joseph Law welcomed the government's move, but said an earlier waiver may not solve the problem.
The total HK$9,600 levy for a two- year contract can be paid in four phases. Under the law, employers have to pay the first six months, or HK$2,400, in one installment.
Law said the government should reimburse employers who have prepaid more than one installment.
Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, said the concession will not benefit those who have signed contracts.
The best way, Liu said, would be to cancel the levy altogether so that all employers will benefit.
Liu last week said that about half of her company's clients had called to reconsider hiring and some had considered terminating the contract of their maids.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party in a rally yesterday said the waiver will only benefit the middle class.
Protesters marched from Chater Garden to the central government offices where they submitted a petition.