Helper-jab rule makes bosses jittery

Top News | Sophie Hui 4 May 2021

Employers are worried about their liability if domestic helpers suffer from complications following vaccination as Covid-19 is not listed as an occupational disease, according to employment agencies.

The agencies also voiced concerns whether the government's mandatory policy for helpers to get vaccinated when they renew their contracts would prompt some of them to leave Hong Kong, causing a deterioration in labor.

Following a helper's infection of a mutant strain in Tung Chung, the government asked the city's 350,000 domestic helpers to get tested by Sunday, except those who have been fully vaccinated and had their second jab at least two weeks ago.

Officials also said helpers will be required to get vaccinated when they renew their contracts after two years - a policy in which details have yet to be finalized.

The chairwoman of the Association of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies, Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, also the managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, questioned whether serious side effects or death after vaccination will be considered as a work injury and so be covered by the employees' compensation insurance.

"In the worst case, what if they die? Is it going to be covered by insurance? Will it be considered a death arising from the course of employment?" Liu said on a radio program yesterday.

There are also complications if the helper decides to leave rather than get vaccinated, said Liu.

As an example, she cited one helper who has been serving the same family for years and is entitled to long service payment.

"The employer says I'm not firing her, and the helper says I'm not resigning. It's the government which doesn't allow the helper to stay. Then who should pay the long service payment?" Liu said.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers' Association, said one employer told her that a helper is insisting on getting vaccinated despite having high blood pressure.

And that, Yung added, is making the employer worried about whose responsibility it would be if the helper suffers from any complication.

"The employer asked the helper to sign a declaration saying she should be held responsible for her own decision, but the helper refused," she said.

Yung said many helpers are not aware they are covered by the government's indemnity fund, which offers compensation for those suffering from adverse effects from vaccination.

Separately, members of the Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body filed a complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission, accusing the government's testing and vaccination policy targeting helpers to be discriminatory.

But Ricky Chu Man-kin, the watchdog's chairman, said the measures "should be lawful" as they aim to protect public health.

Anti-epidemic measures, even if they cause differential treatment, are not against the Disability Discrimination Ordinance if they are reasonable, Chu said.

A policy targeting a race could violate the Race Discrimination Ordinance, but the policy in question "targets an occupation, so it is not against the ordinance."

But Chu said since the government has yet to require helpers to get vaccinated, there is still room for discussion.

A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said 113,000 specimens were collected for Covid-19 testing on Saturday, including those from 52,000 domestic helpers, making it a record high for daily specimen collection.

However, as of 6pm Sunday, only 54,000 specimens were tested. None tested positive so far.

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