Statement on the guilty verdict of Erwiana’s employer
A year wasted: the Hong Kong Government failed to take action to amend discriminatory policies against migrant domestic workers
Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
Justice has been upheld in the abuse case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, an Indonesian domestic worker whose suffering triggered global outrage. The court has ruled that her former employer, Law Wan-tung, guilty of 18 charges, including grievous bodily harm, criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages. We hail this ruling and believe that justice is upheld. However, after a whole year, the Hong Kong Government has done very little to protect its migrant domestic workers. The secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung comments that migrant domestic workers' personal safety is protected by law. His statement completely ignores the fact that Erwiana’s case was indirectly caused by the Hong Kong policies, a system traps the domestic workers in a cycle of abuse and exploitation. If no reform is made to change these discriminatory policies, migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong would continue to stay in an exploitative situation. We believe, working in Hong Kong together, migrant domestic workers should be treated equally. The Hong Kong Government should also learn from this lesson, to immediately abolish the discriminatory policies against them. Hong Kong does not need the reputation of “city of modern slavery”.
Discriminatory immigration policies obscuring migrant domestic workers to seek help
Judge Amanda Woodcock pointed out that Erwiana was not given any rest day, locked up, totally isolated to reach out for help, was a major cause of this case. In reality, many migrant domestic workers encounter such a treatment. The Hong Kong immigration policy requires the migrant domestic workers to live with their employers, which put them under 24-hour surveillance. Live-in domestic workers are forced to work long hours and sometimes, they would have to sacrifice their only rest day of the week. It also prevents them from building local social network and leaves them isolated when help is needed. The “two-week rule” requires a domestic worker to leave Hong Kong in two weeks when her employment contract is terminated, unless a new employer is found. Such a rule causes domestic workers to be afraid of leaving their job even when they are subject to abuse. Both “live-in rule” and “two-week rule” apply only to migrant domestic workers, a blunt discrimination against migrants. In recent years, the Immigration Department has selectively refused to grant employment visas to migrant domestic workers who had not completed a two-year contract. Such a practice would only keep them from reporting abuses.
Toothless Labour Department’s failure to enforce law
The Labour Department claims to be only responsible for education and publicity, and deliberately avoid its role as an official department, namely law enforcement and regulation. Migrant domestic workers bear the identities of workers and migrants, both are vulnerable roles which cannot proactively fight for their rights in the power relations with their employers and employment agencies. This is the general situation, not an individual case. The Labour Department seldom actively investigates or prosecutes the employers and agencies for their unlawful acts. Thus, employers and agencies make it a common practice to cancel their migrant domestic workers’ holidays and confiscate their identity documents. When Erwiana’s abuse first came under the spotlight, Matthew Cheung openly pledged to regulate unscrupulous agencies and protect migrant workers’ rights. Yet, the so-called reform has never surfaced. A whole year has passed and the Hong Kong Government has not delivered any concrete measures to improve migrant domestic workers’ situation. It seemingly has not learnt from Erwiana’s case. Instead, it has created more restrictions on migrant domestic workers, for example, at the legislative consultation of standard working hours, it has attempted to exclude the migrant domestic workers.
Again, we welcome the guilty verdict and are happy that justice is upheld for Erwiana. It is also a victory of all migrant domestic workers. It tells us that if we speak out, despite all the hardship, we migrant domestic workers still have a chance to justice. Yet, such an individual verdict does not improve the migrant domestic workers’ situation as a whole. The discriminatory policies are the root of the problem and if no reform is made, we will only see more victims. Once again, we demand the Hong Kong Government to immediately abolish the discriminatory policies against the migrant domestic workers, to truly bring justice to all domestic workers in Hong Kong.