In the early hours of this morning, 19 new Burmese domestic helpers were greeted by Golden Mind Employment Agency at Hong Kong’s International Airport – the first wave of workers from Myanmar.
A representative from HK Helpers Campaign went to meet the newcomers to distribute a concise list of helplines, support networks, advice and rights information in their language. The campaign is not aware of any government agency or other NGO informing new helpers from Myanmar of their rights.
People from Myanmar are arguably the most vulnerable people in Southeast Asia. The rules have not changed in Hong Kong and so they are at great risk of abuse. 58% of helpers in the city have been abused physically, verbally or sexually, according to a 2012 survey by Mission for Migrant Workers.
Burmese helpers have limited Cantonese and English skills and are not internet-savvy due to years-long restrictions in their country. Additionally, there are no other Burmese helpers in Hong Kong for them to turn to for help.
We have provided neutral help information in seven languages online, but also gave out hard copies to ensure all newcomers were aware of their rights. Today, we were unhindered by the agency, but we are gathering evidence that other agencies have confiscated rights information from new recruits.
The SCMP’s Joanna Chiu reported that Anita Lim, of Golden Mind Employment Agency, has taught helpers to contact them if in trouble as she did not want “third parties” to “lead them astray”.
New helper, Thin Thin Moe, told the SCMP reporter that she would contact the agency for help and did not know the Hong Kong emergency number…
200 more Burmese helpers are due to arrive via Golden Mind agency, and 20,000 could arrive this year. Today’s arrivals went directly to Immigration to collect ID cards and will remain in agency accommodation before being placed with families.
Politician Felix Chung is also working with agencies and the government to recruit helpers from Burma. He insists they are not vulnerable to abuse – however, an experiment with Bangladeshi helpers failed last year due to abuse concerns.