The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) has found that more than half of domestic workers have been charged illegally high agency fees.

In a survey of 452 domestic workers, FADWU found that 56% of them had been charged an average of HK$9,013 (US$1,155), more than 20 times the maximum mandated by the government’s new Code of Practice.

Hong Kong employment agencies are permitted to charge an amount not exceeding a sum equal to 10% of a maid’s first month’s wages. The current maximum chargeable agency fee is HK$441.

Some of the interviewed workers said they paid more than HK$1,100 upfront after their arrival in Hong Kong before starting their job and receiving their first month’s wages.

FADWU conducted an investigation between July 2017 and March this year, aiming to assess the impact of the new Code of Practice for Employment Agencies launched by the Labor Department in January last year.

A 39-year-old Filipino maid named Regina Andres said she paid around HK$4,000 as a “training fee” while she was in the Philippines. Her employment agency then asked for HK$10,000 when she arrived in Hong Kong, Oriental Daily reported.

After paying about HK$8,000, Regina found out she had been illegally overcharged by the employment agency.

FADWU also conducted undercover video surveillance at 18 Hong Kong employment agencies and found that seven of them asked for fees ranging from HK$3,500 to HK410,000 if a maid wanted to look for a new employer.

Moreover, 24% of the interviewed domestic workers had their personal documents such as passports withheld by the employment agency either before or after taking up their job.

FADWU called for the Labor Department to step up inspections and prosecutions to protect domestic workers’ rights.

The Labor Department says that since the implementation of the Code of Practice, it has issued 35 written warnings and revoked licenses of seven employment agencies so far.

Read: Six maid agencies lose their licenses so far this year