Domestic worker abuse in HK continues – NGO

HONG KONG – The worldwide outrage over the abuse of Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih might have made Hong Kong law enforcers pay closer attention to reports of similar cases, but the violations have continued.

This can be gleaned from the latest annual report released recently by the Mission for Migrant Workers, the oldest migrant support organization in Hong Kong.

According to the report, there was a marked increase in the number of physical abuse cases reported to the Mission, from 3.6% of total reported cases in 2013 to 9% in 2014. 

The Mission said this could be attributed to the intense publicity generated by Sulistyaningsih’s case. 

"Erwiana's case gave them some encouragement to come forward," said Cythia Tellez, general manager of the Mission.

In February, Erwiana's employer, Law Wan-tung, was jailed for 6 years, after she was found guilty of 6 charges of assault, grievous bodily harm, and criminal intimidation in a case that aroused widespread outrage over its brutality. 

In the past, Tellez said the migrants may not have known who to approach for help, or were simply afraid to speak up.

But it could also mean more migrant workers were actually subjected to physical abuse.

The reported cases involved many workers being hit on the head or other parts of the body. In one particularly severe case, an Indonesian worker complained that one of her fingers was chopped off.

Tellez said in some of the other cases, workers were scalded with hot soup or water, and even raped. 

But as in past years, the biggest bulk of the 4,197 cases reported in 2014 involved contract violations by employers, and illegal acts by employment agencies.

The labor or contractual violations, which made up 51% of all cases, often involved employers' refusal to pay the legally prescribed fees upon contract termination. Under Hong Kong laws, an employer is obliged to pay a full month’s wage in lieu of notice if the two-year contract is terminated prematurely, and without cause. The worker is also entitled to a return ticket home, or its cash equivalent.

Agency violations, which made up 46% of the cases, ranged from illegal collection of placement fees to forcing the worker to sign up for fictitious loans, to withholding passports and other personal documents.

A significant highlight of the report was the great number of pre-termination of work contracts that were reported. Of the total number of workers who approached the Mission for help, 56% had lost their jobs prematurely, or before the expiration of the standard two-year contract.

Another revelation was the rampant overcharging of placement fees by recruitment agencies. According to the Mission report, an overwhelming number, or 80%, charged far more than the legally allowed 10% (or $411) of the first monthly salary. Of these, 38% charged more than $15,000 (P85,500); 15.8% collected $10,000 (P57,000) to $15,000 (P85,500) ; and 26.4%, between $5,000 (P28,500) to $10,000 (P57,000).

The figures were in stark contrast to recent claims made by Philippine labor officials that employment agencies no longer charge placement fees from their Filipino recruits.

Under Philippine law, Filipinos deployed for domestic work abroad should not be charged any placement fee. In Hong Kong, the legal fee is 10% of the first monthly salary, which at current rates, is $411 (P2,342).

Of the contract violations reported, many involved workers being made to work long hours, with up to 46% saying they worked more than 16 hours a day. A nearly identical percentage, or 47%, complained of not having their own private room. –