Banned flights, strict quarantine: why foreign talent can’t get to Hong Kong

In reply to inquiries by the Post, the Labour Department said the room rate included three meals, drinks and snacks. It did not confirm whether the government set the room rate.

Hong Kong has done well in containing Covid-19. Photo: Felix Wong

Domestic workers have been in short supply given tough restrictions on arrivals from Indonesia and the Philippines in recent months. Photo: Felix Wong.

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As of Friday morning, around 100 of the hotel’s 409 rooms were still available on a first-come, first-served basis, a Silka representative told a Post reporter posing as an employer. Many of the bookings were still awaiting confirmation, he added.

The hotel declined to officially comment on its room availability.

Under its booking system, employers have to send a request for a room via email, which the hotel then responds to, confirming dates and including payment instructions. Room reservations must be paid for within 24 hours.

Thomas Chan Tung-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, called the process “ridiculous” and said it lacked transparency.

“The staff reply to you about whether your request can be met or not,” he said. “Nobody knows how they choose to pick up these requests.”

Other government-approved quarantine hotels accept online bookings that can be processed immediately, and of the city’s 36 designated facilities, 32 accept online bookings. Two, the Ramada Hotel Harbour View and Ramada Hotel Grande, have a calendar showing availability of rooms.

But one employment agency said the process was smooth and it had no trouble making a reservation on Friday – the first day of bookings.

“It was a bit confusing [on Thursday] because we were not clear about the details and terms, such as whether there are free cancellations if the helper is infected with the coronavirus before her departure,” said Daniel Wong Wai-tung, managing director of My Sweet Home Employment Agency.

“The employers were a bit hesitant to make their reservation [on Thursday], but as there is more information available now, I believe that more employers will confirm soon.”

Hong Kong should follow Singapore’s lead and drop ‘zero case’ approach to Covid-19

The company, which has several hundred domestics helpers waiting for approval to come to Hong Kong, made 30 reservations through email on Thursday night, with 22 bookings confirmed on Friday morning.

Wong also said that some employers were waiting to see if cheaper hotels became available before bringing in workers.

On Thursday, labour minister Law Chi-kwong said Hong Kong would tread carefully to avoid compromising local efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, even as it moved to relieve a shortage of helpers.

But Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, said the 409 rooms would not be enough for the numbers expected, adding the high quarantine cost had prompted some employers to give up on the idea of hiring overseas helpers entirely.

“All the [employment] agencies have agreed that 400 hotel rooms is not enough, but we also understand that the government has to relax the measures gradually. They cannot allow an influx of helpers within a short period of time,” she told a radio programme on Friday.

Yung pointed out that employers were not just paying for the hotel room, but also the cost of flights and agency fees, which was “not a small amount of money”.

But she also said the government had taken a risk in allowing helpers to return because “according to our past experience, once there is a confirmed case in a building, all the residents have to be quarantined”.

Earlier this week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government’s approach was necessary to curb the spread of the virus.

But Chan disagreed, and said it failed to reflect the current situation, while the operation was “totally against normal procedure”.

He added: “Thousands of employers have to fight crazily for enrolment … it’s like having luck for the Mark 6.”

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