Accused Employer Was Allowed to Hire Erwiana Despite Earlier Complaints

A previous employee of the woman on trial for allegedly torturing Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih has testified that Law Wan-tung was allowed to hire new domestic workers despite previous complaints of abuse.

A 'Justice for Erwiana' rally last March.

A ‘Justice for Erwiana’ rally last March.

Tutik Lestari Ningsih worked for Law in her Tai Kok Tsui home for almost a year in 2010. She told the court that she was repeatedly slapped and kicked in the thighs by the defendant and that she was not the first of Law’s employees to suffer physical assault.

“She had done such things to previous helpers,” she said.

Tutik claims her employment agency told her of Law’s reputation when she complained of the abuse. Tutik also said that the agent spoke of how Law would struggle to find another domestic worker because she changed them so frequently.

However, a witness for the prosecution, and former employment agency employee, Clara Ho Po-ling, told the court that she could not recall if Tutik was present when the above statement was reportedly made.

Previously, during the trial, Erwiana testified that she had called the agency from a security point at Law’s residential complex after failing to receive her first month’s wages. She also wanted to complain of inadequate food and sleep. Erwiana told the court that an agency representative visited the premises, but spoke only briefly with the defendant, encouraging Erwiana to sign a note of apology for ‘running away’ to make the call.

A third former employee named Nurhasanah, also from Indonesia, fled to the Indonesian consulate and then spoke to police on December 4th, 2011. She said Law assaulted her by forcefully grabbing her wrist and twisting it, though she declined a visit to the hospital. Police Constable Lam Wing-suet told the court that she saw the defendant apologise to Nurhasanah after the incident.

The trial continues this week.

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The women’s court testimonies are in-keeping with a trend whereby employment agencies do not effectively monitor the treatment of domestic workers and continue to place them with employers they know to be abusive.

In 2014, former civil servant Au Wai-chun was allowed to hire another domestic helper despite being found guilty of causing actual bodily harm to her previous employee, Raksona Begum. Au pouring scalding water down Begum’s chest. Her new domestic worker, from the Philippines, wrote a letter to the court asking for leniency for her employer. Au’s jail sentence was commuted to 18 months of probation.

In 2013, the Hong Kong Labour Department completed 1,341 audits of employment agencies, including those that serve helpers. Nine agencies were prosecuted and seven convicted, though the Labour Department did not state whether these agencies served domestic workers. The Employment Agencies Administration received 218 complaints against employment agencies in 2013.

Despite criticism from the UN during a recent consultation on the status of women, the Hong Kong government has stated it does not intend to change policies concerning domestic workers. However, the Labour Department has stated that it will increase the number of agency audits to 1,800 per year. The department has also stated that it was considering publishing a ‘Code of Practice’ with ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for employment agencies.

Domestic worker complaints of confiscation of personal documents such as passports and IDs, illegal agency fees, and collusion with loan sharks cast doubt on whether employment agencies in Hong Kong are effectively monitored – and whether they are making legal and ethical decisions about who they accept as clients.

Follow Meredith McBride and HK Helpers Campaign on Twitter for case updates.