Hong Kong is making plans to ramp up its recruitment of domestic workers from Myanmar as the Special Administrative Region prepares for a potential shortage of laborers from other Southeast Asian countries.
To meet surging demand, “the bureau is looking into the possibility of introducing Burmese workers into Hong Kong,” wrote labor and welfare secretary Law Chi-kwong in an official blog post on Sunday.
Hong Kong already has more than 360,000 foreign domestic workers, and demand is expected to skyrocket as the population ages. The government is looking to diversify its sources of foreign labor as demand rises in other developed cities in the region and as foreign governments put up barriers to potential workers.
Most of Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers today are from the Philippines, but the Philippine government has suspended the issuing of new overseas employment certificates due to concerns over illegal recruitment practices.
In his blog post, Secretary Law also said combatting exploitation was also necessary in order to attract new foreign workers. Some recruitment agencies have been known to overcharge foreign workers, plunging them into debt.
“The SAR highly values the protection of migrant workers’ rights, so they can work here without any worries,” he wrote. “Employers should also treat the helpers as part of their family.”
The secretary also promised to crack down on recruitment agencies that violate the law.
In September 2014, the Myanmar government temporarily banned women from seeking work as maids in other countries because of concerns about abuse. However, rather than stemming the flow of overseas workers from, the ban resulted in the formation of a black market, putting women at even greater risk of exploitation and slavery.
Nonetheless, in 2015, the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) signed a memorandum of understanding with 12 employment agencies in Hong Kong that agreed to follow the federation’s employment standards in the treatment of Myanmar workers.
In June, labor, immigration, and population minister Thein Swe announced that Myanmar would begin sending domestic workers to Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong and registering them with their local embassies.
According to MOEAF, there are 240 overseas employment agencies in Myanmar that are licensed to send workers abroad. There are limits on how many workers each agency can send to each country, but MOEAF is working to raise these limits.