Hiring a fitting domestic helper in Hong Kong is not at all easy, especially when you’re a newbie to Hong Kong. As a renowned ethical agency that provides personalised and efficient hiring services, the professional team at Maid for You aims at easing the headache, so you may focus on settling into your new home. We recently sat down with their director, Freedom Jackman, for a tell-all about her company and how they intend to help with Hong Kong’s domestic helper industry.
The domestic helper industry is a big market in Hong Kong. Why does your company choose to focus on providing services to expats, rather than the general public?
Our founder is an expat in Hong Kong and used to be a full-time doula. From her work, she realised that the most common problem new parents were having was securing a domestic helper. The concept of hiring someone to live in your home and help with domestic work is very new to her expat clients. Based on that, she set out to find the right match of helpers for her clients and help to manage their ongoing relationships. That’s when Babybloom (the predecessor of Maid for You) started to grow into Maid for You.
What are the challenges expats often encounter during or after the hiring procedure? How does Maid for You set out to cope with that?
During the hiring procedure, it’s important to understand the personality and requirements of a client. Parenting style, for instance, differs from one to another. If you put the wrong person in a household, it’s not going to work. That is the matchmaking process and there are different boxes you need to tick. Trying to access all of those is not something we believe can happen on a computer screen or simply through the phone. We prefer meeting with clients face-to-face during this stage to access all their needs.
After the hiring procedure, I believe it’s the lack of understanding that is a challenge. For example, I’m from Australia and it’s not common in my society to have somebody cleaning your house and taking care of your children—you get so used to doing all the work yourself! Therefore, having somebody else do that for you can be quite intimidating. Oftentimes, we would need to teach clients on setting expectations and giving instructions.
How long does your company follow up after the matchmaking?
We have an ongoing relationship with all our clients throughout the whole term of the contract. The time period is at least within the first 30 days for all of them. We have three different levels of service and each comes with a different level of the guarantee period. For example, when clients subscribe to a higher level of service, they will receive a 90-day guarantee.
Have you dealt with any bad cases with clients or helpers? How did you approach it?
I had a very unfortunate case once. After we secured a great helper for a newly-arrived family, police came and took her away to investigate for a money laundering case. It happened just after she had been working in the household for two or three days. Though ultimately there was no charge against the helper—it’s not her fault, she just happened to know the suspect—it’s a daunting experience for both her and the client. We made sure that, after the helper returned to our office, she was well-equipped with food and care. We also provided her with a temporary place to stay and all the communication facilities, so she could get in touch with her friends.
Efficiency in the hiring procedure is an essential value your company adheres to. Is it difficult to achieve, given that it’s a complex process involving interviewing, finding the perfect candidates, and organising paperwork?
It can sometimes be difficult, because ultimately, you’re matching people. The smoothness of the hiring process depends on the client’s expectations and requirements. For the paperwork, a lot of the processes are getting better and more efficient. The immigration department in Hong Kong has been striving to be more transparent and more available in the last four years.
But there’s always a loophole. You can certainly do it all by yourself and settle everything, but it’s important to know what you can and can’t do. That’s why you hire an agency. I have a client of 15 years that told us we had made hiring a domestic helper so much easier for him. It’s great to be in a company where you can help people.
Do you also provide services to locals?
We have gained more and more local clients recently, especially in the last 18 months. One of our admin staffs, who is from Hong Kong, has recently started working with clients, as the number of Cantonese-speaking people applying to our services has been increasing. I had a local couple who told me it was because they wanted to receive better services and participate in ethical practices. Regardless of what the motivations are, I hope we’re moving towards a more socially-conscious world. I choose to take that viewpoint.
Now that your company has expanded to such a large scale, and you have worked in the industry for such a long time, what do you think is the uniqueness and significance of the domestic helper industry in Hong Kong?
The feedback that we get from candidates and applicants is that the working condition in Hong Kong is better, even though people complain about it a lot in here. The salary is higher, and there are also more opportunities for helpers to grow.
But then, there’s also the drawback of the immigration policies. In Hong Kong, a helper cannot first apply for the tourist visa to get to Hong Kong and find an employer. Even if she can, she’d need to return to her own country, wait until the due date, and then come back to Hong Kong to work. In the contrary, the opposite can be done in Singapore. The transfer wastes time and involves cost. That’s why we don’t process workers from their countries, but only from Hong Kong. There’s no need to recruit from abroad and it’s been cost and time-saving.
Photo courtesy of Maid for You
In light of the domestic helper abuse cases on the news, one way to improve the situation is for agencies to implement ethical practices, which is exactly what Maid for You is doing. Aside from that, what do you think can also be done to help with the condition?
Initially, I thought the easy solution is to improve the condition of the living home. I think they create an environment that makes abuse easier, because that person is—in some sense—locked in a house and behind closed doors. They don’t have access to education and don’t have an understanding of their rights. A lot of helpers, who have only been here for a few months or have already finished their contracts, don’t even know that they’re entitled to food allowance.
The easy answer is to provide helpers with adequate accommodation. But it’s a much bigger issue here because there are low-income families in Hong Kong who struggle with their own living conditions—let alone having enough resources to put into their helpers’ accommodation arrangements—whereas it’s easier for the successful and wealthy to give helpers a decent living environment and wage.
Maid for You has been going for 6 years already. Any goals you’d like to achieve by the end of 2020?
We are expanding our training partnerships to upskill candidates. If we want to continue uplifting workers already in Hong Kong, then it’s about upskilling them to the best of the best—that they’re equipped with premium skills and knowledge. We’re leveraging our network to offer them more opportunities to improve themselves, as well as encouraging our clients to upskill their workers. We support strongly the work from Uplifters, a local NGO that aims at helping migrant domestic helpers build a sustainable future for themselves. Their free educational programs benefit the helpers and their communities as a whole. As they move on in their career, they are becoming more intellectual, skilled, and knowledgeable. It’s also one of the goals we’d like to achieve.