Foreign maids and their employers can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
From tomorrow, the government will waive the HK$400-a-month foreign domestic helper levy for two years.
The move saves employers HK$9,600 outright, and with other concessions some may benefit by more than HK$18,000.
Many helpers had been left in limbo as employers either put new contracts on hold or terminated their services after the waiver was announced as part of the government's inflation relief package revealed on July 16.
Employers will also be allowed to renew existing contracts without requiring their helpers to leave Hong Kong.
The Executive Council yesterday approved the proposal to suspend the Employees' Retraining Levy for two years till July 31, 2010. The start date comes a month earlier than planned after widespread criticism of the situation.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said maids having advanced renewal of contract are not required to leave Hong Kong through the discretion exercised by the director of immigration. By doing so, employers will be able to benefit from the waiver without dismissing their helpers. All they need do is renew the contract within the two-year period.
Cheung said as the arrangement applied throughout the two-year period, employers could enjoy a 47-month waiver - worth HK$18,800 - instead of simply 24 months.
"If the same household renews the contract of the same maid before the end of the period, theoretically, the household can enjoy the benefit of a total of four years," Cheung said. However, employers who have paid the levy in advance will not get refunds, he said.
The levy can be paid in four installments within the two-year contract, each costing HK$2,400.
A government source said out of 250,000 existing contracts, 10,000 have paid the full amount of HK$9,600. Cheung stressed the levy is of importance to local employees' training, implying the administration has no plan to scrap it. "The suspension demonstrates the government's greatest sincerity and flexibility in catering for the interests of employers and protecting the rights of employees," he said. The administration expects agents to flock to the Immigration Department tomorrow, and the department will handle a quota of 1,200 case each day.
Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairman Joseph Law said the advanced renewal of contracts could prevent employers from terminating the contracts of helpers.
Technic Employment Service Center managing director Teresa Liu Tsui-lan estimated at least 5,000 employees would renew contracts over the next few days. In the short-term, Liu said the early contract renewal will bring them more businesses, but employers would stop employing new maids in the future.