Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Domestic Helper for the First Time
For many new expats, the whole idea of 'helpers' (domestic workers that live in the employer's home) takes some getting used to. Here's a little pep talk on all the benefits of getting help, and some tips on building a great relationship with your new helper.
If you’re new to Hong Kong, it’s likely that you’re busy coming to terms with the oddities of this small but fast-paced city. From language barriers to the humid subtropical climate and air pollution, Hong Kong can take some getting used to. As with relocating to any new city, you might also have to make sure that your kids adjust to their new school and make friends. During this stressful time of readjustment, you may be working long hours at your new job – making it that much tougher for you and your family to properly find your feet. Fortunately, this process can be made much smoother with the help of a domestic worker.
What Will She Do?
Like other major expat cities – including Singapore and those in the UAE, for example – having a domestic worker is commonplace in Hong Kong and can be very rewarding for both employer and employee. Hong Kong’s roughly 320,000 foreign domestic helpers mostly come from Southeast Asian countries, usually the Philippines and Indonesia. These ladies help families across the city with common domestic duties, freeing up more time for family and making life that much easier. Domestic workers in Hong Kong are live-in, meaning they are required by law to reside in the home of their employer. For those who have never had a domestic helper before, the idea of this may seem awkward or intrusive at first, but the benefits far outweigh the initial culture shock. For most families, helpers become more than just an employee – they can become family.
Plus, having a live-in domestic worker certainly has its perks, particularly if you have children (since childcare services and babysitters are not easily found). Duties that can be taken off your hands include cleaning, pet- and child-care, grocery shopping, cooking, taking laundry to the dry cleaner, and taking your children to school.
Fair Treatment and Building a Relationship
For domestic workers, the job is often an important source of income for not only them but also their families back home. Most expats will be shocked by the extremely long working hours many helpers endure (quite often from 7am to 10pm – and sometimes later) as well as the poor living and working conditions offered to them. This doesn’t have to be the case! As an employer, you are free to give your helper more rest time (many only have one day off a week and minimal holidays), and you can also treat her as a part of the family. This is the best way to foster a close working relationship and loyalty. Your helper can also become more than just a nanny to your children: she can be a companion and friend who plays a big role in your kids’ development.
Sharing Your Home
But as a first time hirer, there will undoubtedly be some things that need getting used to. For one, the requirement that your domestic worker lives at your house can be daunting to those who believe it’s unnatural to let an outsider into the intimacy of family life. There will probably also be some cultural differences to overcome. Many Filipinos, for example, are Catholic and are often relatively fluent in English. Indonesians are often able to speak Cantonese and are more likely to be Muslim (meaning they might be reluctant to handle pork products or may request to wear a headscarf at work). But these subtleties are easily managed through mutual respect and understanding, and correctly handling them means your domestic worker can become an important part of family life – appreciated by you and your kids.
Who Can Hire a Helper?
Convinced yet? Before hiring a domestic helper, you need to know whether or not you fit the criteria to be an employer. Firstly, you need to be a Hong Kong resident. If you’re on a tourist visa, it’s not going to work. Secondly, you will need proof of address, since your helper will be living with you. This can be in the form of an electricity bill, for example. Thirdly, your monthly household income needs to be at least HK$15,000. This ensures that you can adequately support your helper throughout the two-year contract period. You will probably also want to familiarise yourself with the city’s laws governing domestic work (including minimum wage). The biggest trap that expats tend to fall into is letting their domestic workers work part-time or allowing them to live out – the city has been clamping down on this requirement in recent years partly in an effort to boost opportunities for locals. If you and your helper are caught contravening this law, your domestic helper can be deported and banned from working in Hong Kong, while you can be blacklisted from hiring and can face complications in your visa renewal. Don’t risk it!
But don’t let that put you off, either. Simply make sure that you comply with the city’s hiring laws, and put in the time required to find the most suitable domestic worker for you and your family. Then, cultivate a healthy working relationship. There’s a good reason why there’s such strong demand for domestic workers in Hong Kong and other similar cities: they ease the demands of hectic modern life and help to improve the lives of both your and your helper’s families.
Helpers can easily be found through agencies, Facebook, referrals, and online platforms. Finding the right one takes a little bit more work, but you’ll soon find it to be well worth your while. For practical tips on finding a helper check out our ‘Helper Finding Hacks’ here.
HelperChoice is a social impact startup connecting thousands of helpers with employers. Employers will have access to thousands of domestic helper profiles with a detailed experience history and their skills. Domestic helpers can use the service 100% for free so that employers can rest assured that their hired helper has not been exploited to find her job with them. HelperChoice aims to eradicate modern domestic slavery while offering both the employer and the worker control over the process of finding the right match.