Burmese Maids Prepare for Work in Hong Kong

By Soe Sandar Oo 24 December 2013

RANGOON — Burmese domestic helpers are preparing to move abroad to Hong Kong, the second place after Singapore where the Burma government has allowed them to apply for work abroad.

The Burma government is expanding options for local domestic helpers in a bid to reduce the unemployment rate at home and to discourage illegal labor in neighboring countries.

Myo Aung, deputy director of the Department of Labor at the Ministry of Labor, said 200 domestic helpers would be allowed to work in Hong Kong initially, with 60 of them starting their jobs next month through Burmese employment agency Gold Mine.

“We are respecting the demand,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “There’s demand in Hong Kong for Myanmar [Burmese] domestic helpers because the Burmese have a family spirit, pure minds and a solid work ethic.”

The Ministry of Labor gave preference to Hong Kong because the region is known for offering a relatively high salary for domestic helpers, with maids earning about US$500 per month as opposed to about $300 in Singapore.

The Burma consulate in Hong Kong has said the region enforces labor laws to protect domestic helpers, who have faced harsh conditions in some other countries in Asia.

The Department of Occupational Safety and Health at Burma’s Ministry of Labor says it plans to station a labor ambassador in Singapore, Hong Kong and any country where Burmese domestic helpers are allowed to apply for work in the future.

“We contacted the [Burmese] consulate in Hong Kong and will find a solution if the domestic helpers face abuse. This is the most important for Myanmar workers,” Win Kyaing, director of the department, told The Irrawaddy. “We are taking full responsibility, whether they are legal workers or not. But it’s better if they are legal, so we can protect them.”

Gold Mine, the employment agency, will receive the first 60 domestic helpers in January, offering a two-year contract.

“We will take care of the workers 24 hours a day—they can inform our office if they face any problem. We also have Myanmar translators,” a spokesman for the agency said.

The agency will cover up-front relocation costs from Burma to Hong Kong, which will then be deducted from the first four months of salary, in line with standards of the Ministry of Labor. Workers can also send their earnings back to their families in Burma, free of charge. They will work six days a week, with double pay for overtime.

Aye Aye Than, who will provide training through the employment agency, said it would be important for domestic helpers to learn English and Chinese language skills.

“We accept applicants who have passed eighth or ninth standard, but one third of applicants have graduated and already passed tenth standard,” she said. Tenth standard is the final year of school before university in Burma.

Burma has already sent more than 200 domestic helpers to Singapore since they were first allowed to apply for work there earlier this year.

Demand for domestic helpers is high in Hong Kong after Indonesia announced it would prohibit Indonesian maids from working abroad after 2017. Domestic helpers from the Philippines are also trying to secure work in the Macao industrial zones, where the salary is slightly higher than in Hong Kong.