There are an estimated 10,000 people living in modern slavery in Hong Kong (GSI 2018). Approximately 370,000 foreign domestic workers, primarily from Indonesia and the Philippines, work in Hong Kong; some become victims of forced labour in the private homes in which they are employed. An NGO report released in 2016 estimated as many as one in six foreign domestic workers is a victim of labour exploitation. Employment agencies often charge job placement fees in excess of legal limits, and sometimes withhold identity documents, which may lead to situations of debt bondage of workers in Hong Kong. The accumulated debts sometimes amount to a significant portion of the worker’s first year salary. Some employers or employment agencies illegally withhold passports, employment contracts, or other possessions until the debt is paid. Some workers are required to work up to 17 hours per day, experience verbal, sexual or physical abuse in the home, and/or are not granted a legally required weekly day off.
DeWi travelled to Hong Kong from Indonesia when an agency secured her domestic work in the country. Upon arrival her passport was taken and she was at the whim of the agency for finding work.
My first job in Hong Kong was looking after an elderly lady who was very sick. The job didn’t last long because she died. My employer gave me my severance pay equal to one month’s wages, as stipulated by law, plus my last month’s salary. But the agency took this money from me. I stayed at the agency hostel for about a week. They only arranged one interview for me. I was running out of time to find work, due to the “two week rule”.
[Upon termination of contract, migrant domestic workers must find a new employer within two weeks or leave Hong Kong]
I wanted to change agency but they wouldn’t let me and kept my passport. So I lodged a complaint with the police. They came to the hostel and forced the agency to return my passport.
At the last minute – on the last day of my visa – another agency offered me a job. I had to sign the contract immediately. Right from the start, things were not good with my new employer. The contract stated I would work for four people but there were actually eight in the household. After one month, I broke the contract.
My next employer was good. I was able to join the Muslim Women’s Communication Forum whose mission is to help migrant domestic workers. I helped collect donations to support our migrant women’s shelter which offers support to those experiencing sexual harassment, underpayment and early termination of their contract. I was able to make friends and learn more about Hong Kong. I felt empowered and decided to study at St. Mary’s University where I graduated from the Bachelor of Entrepreneur Management Programme.
If I could change one thing, it would be for the Indonesian Consulate to get rid of unscrupulous agencies and become a place where migrant domestic workers can go for help.
Narrative provided by Amnesty International