The Myanmar Times reports that a Burmese employment agency is still sending women to work in Hong Kong despite a government ban. The Myanmar authorities halted the departure of domestic workers to Hong Kong as abuse cases dominated local headlines last May.
Some Burmese helpers are now having second thoughts about working in Hong Kong. According to the Labour Rights Clinic, a Myanmar-based NGO, two women wishing to withdraw from their Hong Kong contracts are under financial pressure from the Gold Mine employment agency which recruited them. One woman reported facing a penalty of K1.6 million (about US$1660) if she breaks her contract.
“We’ve heard bad things about Hong Kong. My mother is worried and doesn’t want me to go there any more. But we can’t afford K1.6 million,” She told the Myanmar Times.
The Burmese Ministry of Labour began permitting applications to work in Hong Kong in late 2013, starting with an initial 200 workers. Sixty of these workers were signed contracts with Gold Mine. The Ministry’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health told The Irawaddy in December 2013 that a labour ambassador would be stationed in Hong Kong to support workers if they faced abuse.
However, as the first group of 19 women arrived in Hong Kong in February 2014, the news of Erwiana’s alleged abuse at the hands of her employer sparked wide protests and media coverage. In May, Myanmar prevented the departure of the remaining workers, claiming the need to evaluate their experiences before sending others. Employment agencies in Yangon told the Myanmar Times that the decision was due to pressure from the international attention on Erwiana’s case.
Rising demand from Hong Kong
In August, Burmese officials called for the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation to ensure that its member agencies take measures to protect their workers. However, a representative from the Federation told the Myanmar Times that the Ministry of Labour had allowed Gold Mine to continue sending workers in accordance with its November 2013 permit in order to prevent the company from suffering heavy financial losses. The agency has already reported pressure from its Hong Kong based counterpart, Golden Mind, which is reportedly facing legal action from employers whose workers did not arrive as expected.
According to the South China Morning Post, Gold Mine charges domestic workers HK$16,000 for employment to cover training and other related costs – the highest fees of any agency in Hong Kong.