“This is a murder,” said Eni Lestari, who heads the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body. She told the crowd that Elis had been charged two months of her salary to change employers in Hong Kong, and that her death was not a normal accident, but the result of human neglect. Elis was residing at the agency because her employer had decided not to hire her for another two months.
Lestari claimed that many agencies think it is acceptable not to provide proper accommodation for foreign workers because there is no government department or agency for them to complain to.
She called on other domestic workers to boycott the agency by refusing to pay them any outstanding agency fees.
Elis died Monday evening after a 60kg cement block fell on her on the roof of the Sunlight Employment Agency. Police confirmed yesterday that they are investigating Elis’s death as manslaughter.
Elis was an active member of Indonesian migrant workers groups and took part in marches for justice for abused domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. Those same groups now demand that the agency be held responsible for the incident that killed Elis.
Mission for Migrant Workers says that the agency, which operates at several locations around Hong Kong, is “deplorable and unsafe.” Other groups at the rally said that the agency is well known for confiscating passports and over-charging fees.
“Indonesian domestic workers there are said to sleep on the floor with mats and no proper bed. Cooking is done at the rooftop of the said old building. Although there is a lift, they are allegedly made to take the stairs since only tenants and staff are allowed to use the lift,” said MFMW in a statement.
Mission for Migrant Workers also says that domestic workers like Elis are often cheated out of wages once they arrive in Hong Kong as their salary does not start until they arrive in their employer’s home.
The groups also questioned the Hong Kong government’s commitment to ensuring safe working and living conditions for Hong Kong’s migrant workers. Another activist Eman Villanueva pointed out that though building management carried some blame, there are other parties who are equally accountable, including the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments.
Matthew Cheung, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, was expressly criticised by the groups for promising to better regulate agencies after the boom of media attention surrounding Erwiana’s case earlier this year. The activists claim that his promises were hollow as nothing has changed.
"Who Killed Elis?" Rally begins, protesters criticize agency and Indonesian and Hong Kong govs for lack of oversight pic.twitter.com/4qnhOziIIU
— Meredith McBride (@MeredithJamie) March 17, 2015
On March 5, Cheung wrote in the South China Morning Post. “The Labour Department will step up the policing of employment agencies and has strengthened collaboration with the relevant consulates,” and noted that the Labour Department has dealt with 18,000 applications for change of employer over three years on “compassionate grounds or if there is evidence that the foreign helper has been abused or exploited.”
Cheung did not elaborate what steps the Department had taken to better police agencies. The Labour Department said that in 2014, they conducted over 1800 audits of employment agencies, and found 4 guilty of infractions. The Department conducted around 1300 audits in 2013 and prosecuted 5 agencies.
Sunlight Employment Agency did not respond to requests for comment.
A rally will be held this Sunday, March 22nd at 3pm, beginning at the Indonesian Consulate in Causeway Bay. The dress code is all black in honor of Elis.
Donations for Elis’s family can be made at justiceforelis.com