Monday, January 20, 2014

Hong Kong Slaves

“Doctors at Amel Sehat Islamic Hospital say she is suffering from swelling of the brain from repeated blows to the head. She also has several broken teeth, a broken nose and her hands and feet are brown and swollen with cellulitis - an infection of the skin that resulted from her long-untreated wounds. Erwiana said her wounds are the product of seven months of abuse that she suffered while "working" as a domestic helper.”

Erwiana was recruited in Indonesia by PT Graha Ayukarsa, with whom she said she agreed to have HK$2,543 ($328) deducted from her HK$3,920 ($505) monthly wage, until a HK$18,000 ($2,320) recruitment fee was paid off. Hong Kong's minimum wage is HK$4,010 ($517) and it is illegal to impose recruitment fees of more than 10 percent on the first month's wage. Erwiana was then placed by Chan's Asia Recruitment Centre, PT Graha Ayukarsa's Hong Kong partner, and arrived to work on her boss's 36th-floor apartment in Tseung Kwan O, an upmarket Hong Kong suburb, in May 2013.

"When I first came to Hong Kong I thought it was a kind of luxurious place, an amazing place. But it was not the reality for me," she said.

According to Erwiana she received no days off, was confined to the apartment, and was given a small portion of rice as her daily meal. After receiving no payment for her first month's work, Erwiana escaped and said that she called her local agent from a public telephone on the ground floor of the apartment complex. But when the agent arrived to meet her, Erwiana said, she was told her employer would provide payment, and was brought back to the apartment. It was then, she said, that the violence began.

"She would beat me with a lot of different implements, most usually with the handle of my mop. She would hit me all over, but mostly on my head," she said. "I had to work for 21 hours a day. I didn't have my own room so whenever I could sleep I would sleep on the floor. If [one of her two teenage] children found me sleeping when I wasn't supposed to be they'd tell her and she'd beat me again." In the final weeks of her ordeal, Erwiana said blood and puss ran from her wounds prompting her employer to complain that it was staining the carpet. She said her boss wrapped her wounds in bandages and plastic bags, but it still seeped out.

London-based rights groupAmnesty International said there are thousands such as Erwiana who suffer conditions tantamount to modern-day slavery working in Hong Kong. About 330,000 foreigners work as domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Amnesty said thousands from Indonesia are being tricked into working in Hong Kong by brokers and agencies with callous disregard for their clients' welfare. Many are forced to pay extortionate recruitment fees and are abused by their employers. According to Amnesty, many agencies charge illegal recruitment fees but the government is doing nothing to police the problem. According to Amnesty, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's (SAR) "two-week rule" states that migrant domestic workers must find new employment within two weeks of their contract ending or being terminated, or they have to leave Hong Kong. This pressures workers to remain with abusive employers; 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 and support their families in Indonesia. Migrant domestic workers are also legally required to live with their employer, leaving no means of escape should the employer become abusive.

"When you see cases of extreme physical abuse - it's tempting to see them as isolated," Robert Godden, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific coordinator, told Al Jazeera. "But actually, when you look into the specifics…many of the factors leading to the abuse can be applied to thousands of migrant domestic workers: underpayment, the employer didn't pay the minimum wage; restrictions on movement; you can see that she was heavily indebted by the illegal recruitment fees charged by the agency; and you can see that she didn't know how to access justice." Amnesty said the vulnerability of migrant workers is compounded by discriminating labour laws and reluctant law enforcement.

"Victims tend to not to be taken seriously and are discouraged from filing complaints...That seems to have been the case for Erwiana when it wasn't until a lot of public pressure through the media came to bear on the police, that they actually started actively investigating. We have anecdotal reports from those who have tried to file reports before that they have been discouraged by the police."

The two-week rule obstructs justice. If a migrant domestic worker leaves an abusive employer and is not re-employed within two weeks, she must leave Hong Kong, making it difficult and costly for her to file a case.

From here

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