A third of domestic workers use their salary earnt in Hong Kong to pay off loans and agent fees, according to a survey by labor welfare groups.

The Mission for Migrant Workers and the Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrants interviewed more than 1,000 maids from the Philippines last summer on how they spent their money, news website HK01.com reported.

The statutory salary for domestic workers was HK$4,310 (US$549) a month at the time the survey was conducted.

The poll found that the biggest expenditure was loans and agency fees, on average eating up 35.6%, or HK$1,534 of their income. In 2013, expenditure for loans and agency fees only accounted for 13.6% of their income.

The groups said agencies often charge workers “registration fees” or “training fees” to circumvent the law and a majority of helpers end up paying much more than the legal amount.

According to the Hong Kong Employment Ordinance, the maximum commission that can be collected by employment agencies from workers is HK$441, or 10% of their first monthly wage.

Meanwhile, domestic workers often only have about a third of their wage (32%) or HK$1,379 for savings or sending money back to their family. The rest goes to their daily costs in Hong Kong including food, transport, communication and clothes.

The labor groups say the minimum wage for maids should be increased from HK$4,410 a month to HK$5,500, and the food allowance from HK$1,053 to HK$2,500. They say a significant increase is needed so domestic workers can have a decent standard of living.

ReadGroup calls for more pay and uninterrupted rests for maids