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Meredith McBride has a comment piece in the South China Morning Post today on behalf of the HK Helpers Campaign…
Stomach-churning images of 23-year-old Erwiana Sulistyaningsih surfaced on social media this week, once again shaming Hong Kong for condoning physical violence against migrant domestic workers. Erwiana was allegedly beaten, burned and tortured to such an extent that she was left in a critical condition.
What will it take for the Hong Kong government to finally act on such horrendous abuse? Clearly, the current system is not working. Only a few months ago, Kartika Puspitasari revealed in court how her employers forced her to wear a diaper and tied her to a chair for days while they left on vacation.
If employers are able to abuse their helpers for months and years on end without ramifications, the laws and policies that allow for this abuse must be changed.
Because of discriminatory legislation, migrant workers have limited options and rights. After leaving an employer for any reason, a domestic helper has 14 days to find alternative employment. To overstay this two-week provision is illegal. However, employment visas take four to six weeks to process. A one-day visa extension costs HK$160. So most have to leave Hong Kong then return once an employment visa has been processed.
Even if abuse has been established, justice is evasive. Cases within the labour tribunal take a minimum of two months to process; abuse cases often take years. This makes it virtually impossible for an abused worker to pursue action against her employer or agency.
A 2012 Mission for Migrant Workers study found that 18 per cent of domestic helpers suffered physical abuse at the hands of their employers. Currently, some 290,000 domestic migrant workers reside in Hong Kong. If this statistic rings true, it is possible that 52,000 women are currently being mistreated by their employer