On August 2, a delegation of representatives from Hong Kong‘s Legislative Council and domestic workers groups will travel to Manila to meet with their Filipino counterparts to discuss concerns of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.
The delegation, headed by Legislative Council member Emily Lau of the Democratic Party, a pro-democracy group, says that it aims to discuss the exploitation of domestic workers by employment agents and loan sharks, who often collude with agents in domestic workers’ home countries to collect extortionate fees for training and placement. Hong Kong placement agencies can legally take 10 percent of the first month’s salary but often take many times this for loans.
According to the Domestic Workers Roundtable (DWRT), a conglomeration of interest groups and NGOs representing domestic workers in Hong Kong which organized the delegation, the “key aim of the visit is the establishment of an Inter-Governmental Working Group on Domestic Worker Issues,” which it says would focus on high-level policy issues between the governments. Current discussions take place on a case-by-case basis.
Over the four-day visit, the groups also hope to address the onerous legal procedures that domestic workers must go through in order to access justice for abuses in Hong Kong.
Around 169,000 of Hong Kong’s 330,000 migrant domestic workers come from the Philippines, where salaries are drastically lower than the US$530/month they can make in Hong Kong. The other half of domestic workers come primarily from Indonesia, with small numbers from Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma (Myanmar). Earlier this year the Burmese government announced a ban on sending domestic workers to Hong Kong and Singapore amid reports of abuse.
The Domestic Workers Roundtable (DWRT) emphasized that better collaboration from both origin and destination countries was necessary to pursue agencies that circumvent Hong Kong laws. “Policy adjustments are required by both the Hong Kong Government and the Governments of the Sending States to resolve outstanding issues,” said the DWRT in a statement. The delegation has plans to make a similar trip to Jakarta later in the year.
The Hong Kong government has been vilified by domestic workers groups and the media for not doing enough to protect domestic workers. Last week, the United States Report on Human Trafficking rated Hong Kong as a Level 2 country, indicating that it does not fully comply with minimum efforts to combat human trafficking.
Though the report acknowledged that Hong Kong was making efforts to combat trafficking, including partial funding of six domestic worker NGOs, the territory did not prosecute anyone suspected of trafficking in 2014, despite claims from NGOs that employment agents often misled domestic workers about their working conditions and confiscated passports and ID cards to ensure repayment of loans, actions that qualify as trafficking.
“Labor officials conducted inspections of approximately 1,300 employment agencies but revoked the licenses of only three, despite NGO and media reports of employment agencies violating regulations by charging exorbitant recruitment fees, requiring domestic workers to make deposits as a guarantee to work, and confiscating employees’ identification documents,” said the report.
Hong Kong’s government refuted the claims, pointing to the high-profile case against the employer of Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who was sentenced to 6 years in prison for assaulting Erwiana and another maid. Though both Erwiana and her employer testified that her passport was confiscated by her employment agent, migrant groups say that the agent has not been punished.