Beavering away in The Hive business centre is a French entrepreneur who may be creating something of lasting value for domestic helpers and employers. Edouard Muller, who is from Paris, has spent two years developing a digital business called HelperPlace. For helpers, it enables screening, at least partially, of employers. For employers, it lists thousands of maids and drivers with photos and skills.
Edouard, who lives on Clearwater Bay Road near Razor Hill, said he used to be finance director for Groupe Casino. He found the work for the $50 billion supermarket chain so exhausting he quit to seek a change of life. After his first child was born, he tried to find a helper and realised he was looking at a potential market.
HelperPlace is now operating as a digital platform connecting helpers and employers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Edouard said there are 3000 helpers on the Hong Kong site today. In the two years he has been operating 5000 employers have posted job offers. They pay $120 for the right to do so (first week free). A total of 25,000 links between helpers and employers have occurred through HelperPlace so far, he said. The site just puts them in touch.
Edouard appears genuinely concerned about helper welfare. The system in Hong Kong is rigged against them and unfair. He is aware of the Facebook site, Sai Kung Helpers for Helpers. “It is a good thing… good that helpers have more channels to connect with people…but it is not so good, because helpers cannot screen employers.”
HelperPlace enables this, to an extent. Employers are asked to post information so helpers can see family details, nationality, accommodation and job requirements. Helpers looking for work can scroll through the employer listings until they find one that hopefully they will be happy with.
How many cases of abuse has Edouard come across in the two years? About 10, he said. The most common helper complaint is long hours, followed by inadequate food, sleeping in unsuitable places like the kitchen or toilet and sometimes, kids hitting helpers.
Operating the business at The Hive with just one IT staffer, Edouard aims to set up HelperPlaces serving 10 countries within five years. Dubai, Doha and Taipei will start soon, he said. Edouard hinted he may one day be looking for investors.