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.
Lestari was trafficked to Hong Kong from Indonesia from 2008-2012 when she sought out domestic work through an agency.
I was born into a very poor family. My parents are elderly. Back then, we had no income to live on. I thought about our life – how difficult it was – and asked myself how I could change it.
There was a broker who lived near me. One day, she came to my house and told me there was work in Hong Kong, but only if I went quickly. She said, “You don’t have to worry about anything. The recruitment fee will be deducted from your wages, but other than that, everything you need will be taken care of by your employer.” The broker promised me 1 million Indonesian rupiah (US$100) as an incentive, but only gave 400,000 rupiah (US$40) when I reached the training centre. I gave her my Indonesian ID and family certificate which she then passed on to the recruitment agency. I still haven’t got them back.
The training centre was in Jakarta – nine hours from my home in Ponorogo. I was shocked when I got there. It was surrounded by high fences and all the women there had their hair cut short. At the office, they gave me a piece of paper with English writing on it. All I could read was the number 27 million. The staff told me, “You have to sign this.” There were about 30 of us; we just did as we were told. Afterwards, they said: “What you have signed means that if you decide to leave, then you have to pay us 27 million rupiah.”
When I got to Hong Kong, I had problems with my first employer and was terminated within five months. I went to my placement agency. They told me, “You can’t go back to Indonesia because you still owe us two months’ deductions.” I still wanted to work so I found another employer. My wages were deducted not for two but for another six months, making my wage deduction period a total of 11 months.
My second employer lived with his extended family. The grandfather kept asking, “Do you want to have sex with me?” At night when everybody was asleep, he would come to the living room where I was sleeping and grope me everywhere. All I could do was keep telling him no and try to stop him. I just cried and cried.
In Indonesia, migrant workers are called “heroes” who earn valuable money for the country. In reality, we don’t benefit from this. There is no state support for our families. The Indonesian government did not help me in Hong Kong. I was alone.
Narrative provided by Amnesty International