Hong Kong was thrust into the international spotlight on Thursday as Amnesty International published a detailed report on the sorry plight of Indonesian domestic helpers in the city. It decried ‘slavery’-like conditions, finding that more than two-thirds of workers endured psychological or physical abuse. The report, entitled ‘Exploited for profit, failed by governments: Indonesian migrant domestic workers trafficked to Hong Kong’, is accompanied by a video, which is well worth watching…
You can read the report in full by clicking here (PDF)…
Or click here for a short summary (PDF). Hong Wrong will report back with more details from the report in the coming weeks. Here a summary of the basic findings…
- Recruitment and placement agencies, in Indonesia and Hong Kong respectively, are routinely involved in the trafficking of migrant domestic workers and their exploitation in conditions of forced labour, as they are using deception and coercion to recruit Indonesian migrants and to compel them to work in situations which violate their human and labour rights.
- The principal mechanisms of coercion which are applied in both Indonesia and Hong Kong are the confiscation of identity documents, restrictions on freedom of movement and the manipulation of debt incurred through recruitment fees.
- Employers in Hong Kong frequently subject migrant domestic workers to serious human rights violations in Hong Kong, including physical or verbal abuse; restricting their freedom of movement; prohibiting them from practising their faith; not paying them the minimum wage; not giving them adequate rest periods; and arbitrarily terminating their contracts, often in collusion with placement agencies.
- Both the Indonesian and Hong Kong SAR governments have not complied with their international obligations to prevent and suppress trafficking and the use of forced labour. They have failed to properly monitor, investigate and sanction individuals and organisations which are violating domestic legislation in their respective territories. This relates to the recruitment agencies in Indonesia and to placement agencies and employers in Hong Kong.
- In addition, both governments have regulations in place which increase migrant domestic workers’ risk of suffering human and labour rights violations. These include the obligation of migrants to migrate through government-registered recruitment agencies in Indonesia, and the imposition of the Two-Week Rule and live-in requirement in Hong Kong.
The 146-page report contains research from Indonesia and HK. Regarding Hong Kong, it states the following:
Once the migrant domestic workers arrive in Hong Kong, they continue to be at risk of abuse, as local placement agencies (contracted by the Indonesian recruitment agencies), and employers also confiscate their documents and restrict their freedom of movement. For example, Amnesty International documented that the vast majority of the women interviewed 14 had their documents taken by either their employer or the placement agency in Hong Kong and about a third of the respondents 15 were not allowed to leave the employer’s house. IMWU’s survey found that nearly three quarters of the women interviewed (74 per cent) had their documents confiscated by their employer or the placement agency.16
Migrant domestic workers are normally told that they will only get their documents back after their debts are fully repaid. The fees charged by recruitment agencies are generally higher than the maximum permitted under both Indonesian and Hong Kong law. Furthermore, if migrant domestic workers leave their job or have their contract terminated, they will normally have to pay a recruitment fee all over again. Interviewees reported that contracts could be terminated if the worker complains about her treatment, is not considered to be a good worker or if the placement agency manipulates the situation in order to collect a new recruitment fee. IMWU documented that 17 per cent of the women it surveyed had their contracts terminated before the agency fee had been repaid.
The fear of having their contract terminated and either not being able to secure a new job or having to repay a recruitment fee a second time compels many Indonesian migrants to remain in abusive and exploitative jobs. As a result of these abusive recruitment practices and poor government oversight of legal requirements for both recruiters and employers, Indonesian migrant domestic workers are at risk of serious human and labour rights violations in Hong Kong. For example, Amnesty International found that interviewees worked on average 17 hours a day; numerous respondents did not receive the Minimum Allowable Wage (the minimum wage for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong) were physically or verbally abused by their employer; were prohibited from practising their faith and did not receive a weekly day off.
Some regulations in Hong Kong exacerbate this problem. For example, migrant domestic workers are required, by law, to live with their employers as a condition for a work permit, preventing workers from moving out of their employer’s house even when they are being exploited or are in danger of abuse. Amnesty International documented that many of the respondents did not have their own room,22 which leaves workers without privacy, on call 24 hour a day and more vulnerable to sexual harassment or violence. In addition, Hong Kong’s Two-Week Rule stipulates that migrant domestic workers must find new employment and get an approved work visa within two weeks of their contract ending or being terminated, or they have to leave Hong Kong. This pressures workers to stay in an abusive situation because they know that if they leave their job they are likely to have to leave the country, which for many would make it impossible to repay the recruitment fees or support their families.
This requirement in turn makes migrant domestic workers dependent on placement agencies to find them another job quickly. It also places them at risk of further exploitation, including having to accept excessive recruitment fees, a salary below the Minimum Allowable Wage, and/or poor living and working conditions just to be able to continue working in Hong Kong. The Two-Week Rule also acts as a barrier to justice. If a migrant domestic worker leaves an abusive situation and is not reemployed within two weeks, she must leave Hong Kong, making it difficult, and costly, for her to file a case against an abusive employer. The only alternative is to apply for a visa extension, which does not allow her to work, at a cost of HK$160 (US$20) for 14 days. To take a case to the Labour Tribunal takes nearly two months.23 During this time, the woman would have to renew her visa several times and pay for her own accommodation, food and other expenses without any income. The costs of doing so makes it impossible for the majority of migrant domestic workers to seek redress for human and labour rights violations. In this way, the Two-Week Rule provides a disincentive for the workers to denounce exploitative practices and seek justice through the legal channels.
HK now finds itself under pressure and condemned by numerous international bodies and NGOs.
The UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have slammed HK for the 2-week rule. Meanwhile, International ILO standards condemn the city’s archaic ‘live-in’ law.
The story elicited little sympathy from commenters on the SCMP website.
Today’s post forms part of a series leading to the launch of a separate ‘HK Helpers Campaign’ – a coalition of NGOs and activists united to spark debate and effect change for Foreign Domestic Workers.
- HK Maid Community Gather for Global Dance-Off.
- Indonesian Maids Rally in Support of Abused Domestic Helper.
- Domestic Maids Plant Toy Grenades for Art… But Were the Curators Ethical?
- Grainne Quinlan’s Stunning Portraits of HK’s Helper Community.
- Now Gov’t Rules Make it Near-Impossible for Domestic Maids to Quit or Escape Abuse.
- Photo Project: ‘Why Do You Do What You Do’.
- Dreamseekers: Photographer Reveals Maid’s Journeys from Indonesia to HK.