In a statement to the South China Morning Post on Tuesday, Indonesian consul-general Chalief Akbar Tjandraningrat claimed that the problem of abuse amongst domestic migrant workers is ‘very rare in Hong Kong’. It is disheartening to know that the top Indonesian official in Hong Kong is claiming that Hong Kong is a safe place for migrant workers, despite repeated evidence to the contrary.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; International Labour Organization; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch and others have all cited areas for improvement in Hong Kong’s policies regarding domestic workers.
In response to the case of Erwiana, CY Leung and Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung have both pledged to uphold the law of Hong Kong, but have yet to lay out how specifically that will be done with regards to domestic workers. This mistreatment is something that happens behind closed doors and is difficult to prove; thus the only way to adequately address it is to take preventative measures. Sunday’s rally, organized in under a week to call for justice, was attended by thousands and indicates the growing sentiment amongst migrant workers and Hong Kongers alike that retroactive measures for abuse victims is not sufficient.
Exporting labour through domestic workers is a billion dollar industry for Indonesia, and the arrangement is mutually beneficial for both Indonesia and Hong Kong. As with any other industry, however, the importation of domestic workers through agencies must be regulated by both governments. Amnesty International’s 2013 report on the topic cites numerous cases in which women were coerced by agencies to stay with employers in Hong Kong to pay off illegal debts to agencies on both sides of the transaction.
In 2013, the Hong Kong Labour Department conducted 958 inspections of foreign domestic workers agencies and revoked the licenses of 2 for overcharging and fraudulent behaviour. An Indonesian Migrant Workers Union survey found that 74% of Indonesian domestic workers had their travel documents confiscated, meaning that under the UN definition, they are victims of labour trafficking.
According to the US Government’s most recent Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the Hong Kong government identified 0 labour trafficking victims during the time of reporting. The report also specifically cites domestic workers, saying that Hong Kong needs to do more to protect “vulnerable populations, including foreign domestic workers”. It is worth noting that not only is the TIP report critical of Hong Kong but that the territory was down graded from tier 1 to 2 in 2009, putting it in the company of Cambodia and Indonesia. Clearly there is a severe gap in reporting that must be addressed.
Local NGOs have been hearing and collecting testaments of abused migrant workers in Hong Kong for years, and since Monday’s launch, the HK Helper’s Campaign has been overwhelmed with even more stories and accounts of abuse. Mistreated helpers are indeed a minority, though they are not rare. To prosecute individual offenders is a significant starting point, but this alone is not enough to protect the 300,000 women currently residing in Hong Kong homes.
Denying that problems exist in an attempt to maintain diplomacy is an outright failure to protect not just Indonesians, but all domestic migrant workers in Hong Kong. Current laws are meaningless until they are backed up by practical realities- this means the government must make a serious effort to regulate recruitment agencies, ensure safe living and working conditions, and extend migrant workers equal protection under the laws that the rest of Hong Kong citizens enjoy.
Visit the action centre and Write to Chalief Akbar Tjandraningrat…
- Contact the Indonesian Consulate Office in Hong Kong. Email FAO the Consul-General, Mr Chalief Akbar Tjandraningrat at email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 3651-0200 or fax for free via Outfax to 2895-0139. Or write to FAO Mr Chalief Akbar Tjandraningrat, Consulate General of Indonesia, 6-8 Keswick Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong,
Meredith McBride is an advocate for the HK Helpers Campaign, listen to her on RTHK Radio 3 this morning debating these issues with other NGOs and Joseph Law, head of the Employer’s Association.
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