Karapatan slams the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers in Hong Kong

Karapatan stands in solidarity with thousands of migrant workers in Hong Kong who marched for justice for domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih of Indonesia on 19 January 2013. We support their call for Erwiana Sulistyaningsih‘s employers and recruitment agencies to face justice and for reform in laws which prevent domestic workers from reporting abusive employers and agencies.
 
Karapatan is appalled by the abuse and exploitation of Erwiana, a young Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong. Erwiana was physically and psychologically abused by her employers during her 8-month employment with them. Her employers also withheld her pay. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih reported her problems with her employer after one month to the recruitment agency, Chan Asia. She complained that she had not been paid her wages, was only allowed to sleep for 4 hours a day without any day off, and was only given one bottle of boiled water, bread and one serving of rice a day. The agency staff at Chan Asia insisted that she return to her employer and told her she could not leave until she had paid back her fees to the agency.
 
The extreme treatment and abuse of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is unfortunately not a one-off occurrence and migrant domestic workers are frequently subjected to human and labor rights violations. Their conditions of employment are considered forms of modern-day slavery as many workers cannot leave their employers house at will, their legal documents are confiscated by their employer and their pay is withheld.
 
An Amnesty International 2013 report on Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong has pointed out that the government of Hong Kong’s regulations and policies facilitate abuse and exploitation and discourage workers from reporting abuse.Domestic workers in Hong Kong are obliged to live with their employer and must find new employment within two weeks or return home if they leave their current employer. This makes it difficult for domestic workers to report abuse.Indonesian migrant workers are also obliged to find work through recruitment agencies (this restriction is not applied to Filipino domestic workers). The recruitment agencies regularly traffic workers, charge illegal fees and coerce them to work in conditions which violate their labor and human rights while the Hong Kong and Indonesian Governments exercise little effort to monitor and regulate them, as these governments, like the Philippine government, promote and support the labor export policies. Recruitment agencies charge excessive fees and use debts to pressure workers to accept sub-human working conditions. Recruitment agencies also foster the conditions of abuse by telling employers not to let their workers leave until they have repaid the recruitment fees (usually seven months) and to stop them from talking to other Indonesian workers.
 
The majority of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are young women from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, who are pushed by the miserable economic conditions in their countries to work abroad to support their families. They are controlled, exploited and manipulated to gain as much financial value from them as possible. 
 
In light of the pervading abuse and relative impunity of recruitment agencies and employers, Karapatan supports Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s brave commitment to return to Hong Kong to purse her case against her former employer. 
 
Karapatan also expresses solidarity for the campaign “Justice for Erwiana” which held public protests in Hong Kong on Sunday, 19 January 2014. Local and international organizations organized and joined the campaign including Indonesian Migrant Workers Network (JBMI), Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) and the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Tak Cheong Lane and other individuals.
 
Karapatan calls on the Government of Hong Kong to:
1. Ensure that Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s employers are prosecuted and brought to justice, and to take appropriate action against her recruitment agency, ChanAsia;
2. Review their regulations and restrictions on migrant domestic workers to ensure there is freedom for workers to claim better working conditions and act against abusive employers, which includesthe repeal of the mandatory live-in arrangement and the New Conditions of Stay (NCS) or two-week rule in Hongkong; 
3. Launch an investigation into the operations of recruitment agencies and implement measures to better control recruitment agencies prevent exploitation of workers, the imposition and collection of exorbitant fees and impose responsibility of recruitment agencies for negligence in care of recruited migrant workers.