If you’re swamped by forms and regulations you don’t quite understand, this handy guide to hiring a helper will help you get sorted.
Never had a helper before? Uncomfortable with the thought of being responsible for another adult in the house? Overwhelmed by the legally-worded contract forms? Don’t worry! In a busy city like Hong Kong, thousands of helpers work tirelessly at home, taking on chores like cooking, childminding, laundry and much more, and go on to become integral and valuable members of the family. Hiring the right helper can bring you peace of mind and is well worth the sometimes long and tedious process. Here’s all you need to know to get started.
If you’ve not had a helper before, you can try exploring helper agencies. Reputed ones have huge helper databases with complete information such as their previous employment, reviews, health record and termination contracts (and the reasons given). You can go through the profiles, shortlist some and talk to those who you feel can sync with your family. Agencies will then manage the visa and paperwork process on your behalf. This could cost anywhere from $4,000 (for a finished contract helper already in the city) to $12,000 (for a direct hire helper from overseas). There are a lot of agencies operating in Hong Kong but not all are ethical; some have got warnings or licences revoked as a result of unfair practices. Our picks would be our own agency, HelperPlace, as well as Arrow Employment Services and Fair Employment Agency. Take your time to do your research and choose one carefully, because you wouldn’t want your domestic worker to start her journey in the city (and with your family) carrying loans after being exploited by the agency.
References or online platforms
You can also hire a helper through references from your colleagues, friends or family. Some online platforms have tools to allow you to easily screen and interview potential helpers. These are really useful if you are looking for a helper who has finished, or is close to finishing, her existing contract. Since she is already in Hong Kong, it helps speed up the hiring process.
Once you have decided on a candidate, have a detailed discussion with her:
- Check the helper’s previous experience and get to know the skills that she excels in (you could ask her for references).
- Understand the candidate’s job expectations (it’s about her happiness as well!).
- Take her around your house and introduce her to your family members so that she better understands her role and your expectations.
- Be clear with what you want her to do and within what timeframe each task should be completed.
Hire the helper only if you are convinced that it’s a suitable arrangement for both.
Government requirements and legalities
Unlike the subjective process of interviews, this is often the easiest (though tedious) part of the process. There are some basic requirements before hiring a helper:
- You need to be a Hong Kong resident.
- Your monthly household income should be over $15,000.
- You should not be blacklisted for underpaying or any other issue with regards to hiring a helper.
- You need to sign the standard employment contract which clearly states that the helper can work only for you and cannot be asked to work for your friends or relatives.
- You must provide your helper with appropriate accommodation with basic living facilities.
- Compensation insurance for the helper is mandatory; you will be required to take care of her medical expenses as well.
To start the hiring process, you must fill up and sign four copies of the contract (one will be for the helper’s Consulate, one will be with Immigration and the other copies are for the employer and domestic helper respectively). You must also fill out immigration application forms (ID988A and ID988B) and provide a few supporting documents.
For all contracts signed on or after Saturday, 28 September 2019, the minimum domestic helper salary is $4,630 per month. Apart from this, domestic helpers are entitled to a food allowance of $1,121 per month or the employer must provide free food.
Domestic helpers are entitled to one rest day in every period of seven days. Most of the time, the rest day is on Sunday but the employer and helper may choose any weekday, based on mutual agreement. Helpers are also entitled to paid annual leave (seven days per year of the contract, to be taken during or after each two-year contract period ) and statutory holidays (12 days in a year).
How long does the process take?
If you are looking to hire a domestic worker currently overseas, you are required to process her visa through a licensed helper agency. However, if she is from the Philippines and about to finish her current contract in Hong Kong, it might be easier and shorter (2 to 4 weeks), if you can process the contract by yourself (for those in a hurry or familiar with the process, this is often the best option).
The immigration department might take anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks to process helper visa applications, depending on the number of applications. The period may get further extended if the department calls for further investigation. In such cases, obtaining a visa might take even 3 to 4 months.
If you are not familiar with the visa rules or the government criteria, you can always seek the help of a trustworthy agency or contact the immigration department. As mentioned earlier, agency fees can range from $4,000 to $12,000, but a reliable agency may be your best bet if you are hiring for the first time or have no time to do all the processing and paperwork by yourself.
Building mutual comfort and trust
Once you are done with all the processing and your helper arrives home, the first thing you need to do is make her feel comfortable in the new environment. Both you and your employee should be patient and understanding of each other’s requirements. The secret to a happy home is having a happy helper.
- Do not ask her to start with the domestic chores on the day she arrives; let her get to know the family instead.
- The first few days might be frustrating; your helper may not know how to use every appliance in your home. Teach her with patience and you will see her respond with interest and dedication.
- English is often not a helper’s first language. Talk slowly and clearly and, as far as possible, use words and terms that she is familiar with.
- Discuss what you and your family members will call her and how she should address you. Minor things like this often bring misunderstandings later on.
- Provide her with clean, well-ventilated and comfortable accommodation. It shows that you care for her comfort and she will care for your family in return.
- Don’t use harsh and abusive words that hurt her emotionally. Be sensitive that she is working away from friends and family and is dependent on you for most things.
- Review her work often. It will be easier to make changes and meet or correct mutual expectations when done on a regular basis, rather than after discontent has been brewing for a while.
Having the support of a trusted helper makes all the difference to the quality of family life that you can get in Hong Kong. We hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship for you and your family.