The latest allegations of the horrific abuse suffered by Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian domestic helper, underlines the urgent need for the Hong Kong government to ensure thousands of migrant domestic workers do not suffer exploitation at the hands of recruitment agencies and their employers, said Amnesty International (AI), Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) and International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
The call came as campaign groups launched a petition calling on Matthew Cheung, Secretary for Labour & Welfare, who is ultimately responsible for protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers, to take action.
“The authorities can no longer bury their heads in the sand and treat such horrific abuse as isolated cases. From Matthew Cheung’s comments yesterday he still appears to be unaware of how Hong Kong regulations act as a disincentive to migrant domestic workers accessing legal remedy,” said Mabel Au, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.
In the most recent case, Indonesian migrant domestic worker, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, was said to have been seriously injured by her Hong Kong employer. The violence allegedly meted out by Erwiana’s employer comes only four months after a Hong Kong couple were jailed for the abuse they inflicted on another Indonesian migrant domestic worker, Kartika Puspitasari.
“We thought Kartika would be a wakeup call for the authorities. Yet here we are with more allegations of similar ill-treatment. Will the government now take effective action to stop migrant domestic workers being exploited for profit?” said Bo Lai Wan, FADWU
With growing public outcry, testimonies of abuse gathered by civil society organisations, and stern recommendations from UN bodies, Matthew Cheung committed yesterday to ‘stepping up regulation’ and ‘enforcement and inspection of agencies’. However, no details were provided and he has yet to confirm a meeting request with civil society groups to discuss protection measures.
“This is about systemic failures that foster the exploitation of migrant domestic workers by unscrupulous agencies and employers. It is time for Cheung to demonstrate he is serious about doing everything in his power to end the abuse. He needs to make specific commitments including an end to the government’s discriminatory laws and regulations”, said Leo Tang, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
Surveys by the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (2012) and Mission for Migrant Workers (2013) both demonstrate abuse suffered by migrant domestic workers is widespread and not limited to isolated incidents. Thousands of women spoke of excessive and illegal agency fees, underpayment, confiscation of passports, and physical, as well as psychological and sexual abuse.
Last November, Amnesty International published a damning report on the abuse of migrant domestic workers. Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments, highlighted how unscrupulous agents in Indonesia and Hong Kong subvert the law in order to traffic Indonesian migrant domestic workers to Hong Kong for labour exploitation. The women are deceived over the terms and conditions of work, saddled with large debts, work in isolation with little knowledge of how to seek assistance.
Those who flee their employer, they must find another job within two-weeks or must leave Hong Kong. Those who file a complaint at the Labour Tribunal have to first find a shelter to accommodate them and be prepared to be jobless for months. Even those who put up with this sacrifice, often fail to get adequate compensation. Government statistics suggest many go home instead of seeking justice – undermining Cheung’s claim that migrant domestic workers ‘enjoy equal access to Hong Kong’s justice system’.
“Many people believe there can’t be a problem as women are coming here voluntarily to work. What they don’t understand is that many agencies subvert the law for profit, and Hong Kong’s regulations are actually making it harder to escape abusive situations” said Elizabeth Tang, International Domestic Workers Federation.
Amnesty International, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions and International Domestic Workers Federation believe that the people of Hong Kong will no longer tolerate the illegal acts of placement agencies and abusive employers. Through an online petition http://bit.ly/migrantrightsnow launched today the organizations are calling on Matthew Cheung to
Establish a robust, proactive body that monitors, investigates and punishes agencies that charge migrant domestic workers illegal fees, confiscate their passports and encourage underpayment of wages.
Introduce a government-run system for payment of recruitment fees and wages so that agencies and employers cannot underpay workers.
Establish a working group where government, workers and employers agree on recruitment fees, and work towards the international standard of “no fee to the employee”.
Allow employers and workers to decide on whether the worker will live-in or out.
Abolish the “Two-Week Rule” so that migrant domestic workers are equally under same immigration policy as other migrant workers.