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HK legislators air support for protection of migrant domestic workers

| March 6, 2015


[The video shows Hong Kong legislators Lee Cheuk Yan and Emily Lau speaking about their understanding and support for the protection of migrant domestic workers rights and welfare as well as their mutual desire for the abolition of the conditions that perpetrates modern day slavery in Hong Kong.]

Various migrant worker leaders from unions and organizations under the banner of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body initiated a dialogue with some members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council to discuss the current situation of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Hong Kong.  The meeting took place on March 1 last DSunday at the Legco building.

The dialogue was initiated immediately right after Wanchai District Court judge Amanda Woodcock issued the sentence of six-year imprisonment and HK$15,000 fine on Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s abusive employer, Law Wan-tung.

The AMCB was able to clinch the dialogue with the League of Social Democrats Party, in which its chairperson and representative Hon. Leung Kwok-hung (aka Long Hair) helped in organizing the said event and coordinated with other legislators in the LegCo to attend it. Long Hair has already expressed intent to join the dialogue but was unable to because he got ill.

Present in the dialogue were Legislators Kenneth Chan (Civic Party, chairman), Sin Chung Kai (Democratic Party, vice-chairman), Lee Cheuk-yan (Labour Party, chairman), Charles Mok (Professional Commons, chairman), Emily Lau (Democratic Party, chairlady) and Kwok Ka-ki (Civic Party, member).

From the migrant side, attending were Eni Lestari of United Indonesians Against Overcharging (PILAR-HK), Sringatin of Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union (IMWU-HK), Eman Villanueva and Feliza Benitez of Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU-HK), Dolores Balladares of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-Migrante-HK), Theera Tejapang and Noom Inkhen of Thai Regional Alliance (TRA-HK), Dil of Overseas Nepali Workers’ Union (ONWU-HK), Maesaro of Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (ATKI-HK), and Rosyi Mansur of Indonesian Migrants Muslim Alliance (GAMMI-HK). Joining them were Erwiana Sulistyaningsih herself, Cynthia Abdon-Tellez of Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW Limited), and Rey Asis of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) and sitting in for the United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights (UFDWR).

Leading the presentation was Eni Lestari who laid down the slave-like conditions in the workplace and the social exclusion that MDWs encounter in Hong Kong. She highlighted the many oppressive policies like the Mandatory Live-in Arrangements and the Two-Week Rule policy as well as their exclusion from the statutory minimum wage, the discrimination or exclusion they feel with regard to the HKID (only MDWs are designated with the letter W) and with the Immigration Department having a separate counter for them at the airport, and the continued ban on hiring Nepalese workers in Hong Kong.

Lestari, herself an MDW, gave a litany of discriminatory policies and practices they experience both in and outside their employers’ homes.

Following her was Erwiana who appealed to the legislators to amend policies that will give more protection to MDWs. She pinpointed the stress Judge Woodcock gave on the existing mandatory live-in arrangement as contributing to the vulnerability of MDWs to physical abuse and harm. She also pointed out the problems with recruitment agencies that illegally charge high fees on MDWs while neglecting the MDWs if the latter are in distress.

Cynthia Abdon-Tellez of the MFMW Limited raised several points on existing policies related to MDWs but are not aligned with international conventions or laws. She made mention of the mandatory live-in arrangement as one that contradicts the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (ILO C189). According to her, for a harmonious relationship to happen inside the household, for a good relationship between the employer and the MDW to flourish, laws and policies that promote the rights of MDWs should be in place.

Abdon-Tellez also expressed concern on how the police has conducted recent raids and criminalized MDWs with live-out arrangements. She stated that instead of the government making real their promise to inspect illegal practices of recruitment agencies and regulate these agencies, they have resorted to hitting and cracking down on MDWs with live-out arrangements.

Rey Asis for the UFDWR seconded everything that was said and encouraged the legislators to acknowledge the current situation of MDWs and amend laws for the MDWs’ benefit. He said that while some policies are in accordance to certain conventions like the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), some of these laws still fall short in providing protection for MDWs and recognizing domestic work as work. He also recommended that a tri-agency cooperation – among the Hong Kong Police, Immigration Department and the Labour Department – can possibly be developed in order to be more effective in attending to the needs and welfare of MDWs.

The legislators welcomed the migrant domestic workers in the dialogue and recognized the need to make changes on existing policies that contribute to problems experienced by MDWs. Emily Lau for one urged the migrant organizations and institutions working with migrant workers in Hong Kong to submit complaints or cases to the Complaints Department of the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Lee Cheuk-yan was very helpful in highlighting how existing policies affect MDWs and how these policies need to be amended.

Towards the end of the dialogue, highlighted concerns that both the legislators and those on the migrant side united on to carry over were: a) review of the mandatory live-in arrangements – Migrant leaders and their advocates highlighted the importance of making live-in arrangements optional to both MDWs and their employers; b) review of the implementation of the Two-Week Rule – Legislators agree that two weeks, or 14 days, is really too short for MDWs with terminated contracts to look for an employer or pursue their cases, if they have any; and c)  on regulating recruitment agencies – Both parties aim to put pressure on Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung, secretary for Labour and Welfare, who has not yet made real the the promise he made last year that a stricter regulation and monitoring of recruitment agencies will be developed and released.

Other issues raised by the migrants will be discussed further by the legislators.

Immediately following the dialogue was a press conference, where these unities were shared with the media. Worthy of note was Eman Villanueva’s concluding remarks, in which he said that MDWs do not aim to fight with employers in the dialogue but rather work with them and have a harmonious relationship with them. It will be the Hong Kong government’s role, he said, that will contribute to this if the Hong Kong government make great improvements on MDW-related policies.

For the legislators’ side, Kenneth Chan of the Civic Party has expressed support to the call for making live-out arrangement as an option. Himself an MDW employer for 15 years, Chan also wanted to be given an option whether he would allow his MDW to live in or out.


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