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Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Helpers’

Since forming the concern group we have become more aware of the many concerns that domestic helpers have about their work conditions and personal safety. Each week we help someone in some way, providing temporary shelter for abused women, helping some to deal with threatening employers, directing others to support organisations and raising money when we can.

Today we want to tell you about a friend of ours, someone we helped out a few months ago. Beth’s story is similar to those of increasingly more domestic helpers in Hong Kong. It might not be the most dramatic tale but it does indicate the contempt with which helpers can be treated, and what they can do to gain recompense.

Read on . . .

When Beth arrived in Hong Kong the situation seemed promising. Her employer lived with his fiancé in Discovery Bay, a tidy, quiet and often friendly district on Lantau island. But on the first night she had to sleep on the couch because the separate room mentioned in her domestic helper contract was a lie. And when her employer left for Singapore two days later her life descended into misery.

With the employer out of sight, his fiancé proceeded to assault Beth. The slightest mistake in any aspect of housework brought swift retribution, first in foul language and then in beatings on the arm. One day she was hit in the face with a book. Desperately worried about her own safety and how she would support her three-year-old daughter in the Philippines if she fled, Beth fell into confusion, made worse by constant hunger because she was only allowed one meal a day.

Less than a week after arriving, this shy, unassuming woman had a knife thrust at her face, and six days later she was dismissed. She sought help from the Mission for Migrant Workers and found accommodation with friends of the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge. But she still had a struggle ahead.

The Lantau police dismissed Beth’s claim of assault in a form letter, citing insufficient evidence. Her employment agency resisted cancelling a loan it forced her to take in the Philippines to cover illegal placement fees, but eventually relented. Beth’s former employer ignored the case she presented to the Labour Department for unpaid wages, only appearing when it went to the Minor Employment Contract Adjudication Board. During the hearing he berated Beth for ‘running away’ and pressed her to apologise. He finally paid only part of the claim.

Beth recently filed an application for a change of employment status with the Immigration Department. In two weeks she will take up a contract with new employers – a fundamentally decent family. She has friends in Discovery Bay now, and elsewhere in Hong Kong. But more importantly she has hope.

An earlier, slightly different version of Beth’s story appeared in Migrant Focus, the monthly newsletter of the Mission for Migrant Workers here in Hong Kong. We will include links to Migrant Focus in the sidebar soon, so that readers can learn more about what the Mission and Bethune House are doing for domestic helpers in distress.

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Given the current lack of news on whether an inquest will be held into Vicky’s death, we will dedicate the next few posts to details of other cases we have been involved in, both within Discovery Bay and in other parts of Hong Kong.

The saddest fact that we have encountered since coming together after Vicky’s disappearance is that abuse is happening to domestic helpers at many levels, more so than even the more cynical amongst us might think. Aside from the many people we have referred to Helpers for Domestic Helpers, mainly for contract violations by employers, we have been working with the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Shelter and its parent organisation the Mission for Migrant Workers in aiding physically distressed helpers.

We will, of course, offer any news available on Vicky’s case, but the next post will feature Beth’s story, written by one of the concern group and published in the Mission for Migrant Workers newsletter this month.

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Bethune House in Jordan on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side provides temporary accommodation for domestic helpers who have been wronged by their employers and are seeking justice through the Labour Tribunal, the courts or both. The organisation urgently needs help with food and monetary donations.

The House has 22 bed spaces but is currently sheltering just over 60 residents who have been exploited and abused. It only has enough rice to feed these women for around a week. Anything you can give will be very much appreciated.

Details are as follows.

—————————————————————-

BETHUNE HOUSE FOOD DRIVE

SUPPORT FOR
DOMESTIC HELPERS IN DISTRESS

The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge provides temporary shelter for domestic helpers with

ON-GOING LABOUR CASES

We urgently need donations of foodstuffs such as rice, coffee, cooking oil, sugar and milk to feed our residents

Tax deductible CASH donations will also be accepted. Cheques should be payable to:

“The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, LTD.”

Address: c/o Mission for Migrant Workers
St. John’s Cathedral, 4-8 Garden Road, Central

Tel: (+852) 2537-1333 or (+852) 9488-9044

—————————————————————-

The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge Limited is a registered charitable institution under the Companies Ordinance (Cap 32) of Hong Kong

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For anyone with enough time to read through it, Migration and Domestic Helpers is a blog well worth visiting. Maintained by a woman who spends time in both the Philippines and Hong Kong, the blog covers the many problems faced by migrant workers in the region.

The blog’s author, Helly, writes that:

I work with domestic workers in need of help due to underpayment of wages, premature termination of the employment contract, passport confiscation, or excessive placement or training fees in the home country. The majority of the women I encounter are Filipino and Indonesian. This blog is my attempt to understand the reasons why migrant workers are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Particularly interesting are Helly’s observations about a severance pay dispute involving “Remia”, a Filipino domestic helper here in Hong Kong. This sort of thing is happening in Discovery Bay with increasing frequency.

Hopefully we’ll see some updates from Helly soon.

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“RosesmdCW”, a Filipino domestic helper in Clearwater Bay, has been following Vicky’s case since we began posting news about it here. She left a long comment on the Thorough Investigation? page last week that deserves to be shown here in full because it gives yet another example of how Hong Kong is failing in its duty of care towards migrant workers.

The comment has been edited slightly to ensure clarity, and broken into paragraphs to emphasise the main points. Further comments on this or any other case are very welcome.

I have been reading about “VICKY” and what’s happening with her case now; it really makes me sad to think that up to now nothing has happened.

I have been here in Hong Kong for almost 14 years now, and it makes me sad to say that most of us believe that the “LAW” here in Hong Kong is much better than in the Philippines, but yes I do agree that the discrimination here is much worse than I have ever imagined. If you are only a mere servant, even in cases of emergency, people here will just ignore you.

I have experienced going to the emergency section of the government hospital several times with a severe stiff neck pain, and still the staff haven’t attended to me immediately (you have to wait 2 to 3 hours before being attended).

I took my sister to one of the hospitals yesterday as she was bleeding, but she was still sent home and advised by the doctor to wait for an appointment on November 21, 2008. My question here is: What does “emergency” mean? Does emergency mean that you should be drawing your last breath to be considered?

I really can’t understand the hospital rules here … I saw people waiting at the emergency section with just slight problems. To make matters worse for my sister, she was immediately terminated by her employer when they knew she was to attend Emergency! They had objected to her going to see the doctor and made her continue work even though she was in pain and bleeding.

I wish the government would really act on this, and not wait until the reputation of Hong Kong deteriorates further.

If you know anyone in a situation like this, please ask them to contact Helpers for Domestic Helpers, or another group that can help with arranging action through the Labour Tribunal. What “RosesmdCW” describes is not a termination but a contract breach by the employer.

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It is very encouraging to see the recent comments on the importance of knowing your rights, even though not having to defend them would be a much more hopeful scenario. Still, the reality of being a domestic helper in Hong Kong is not always promising.

For those of you who have the time, an easy to read academic study of how Filipino domestic helpers in particular are treated in Hong Kong Hong, including social attitudes towards them and how the justice system treats them, has recently been made available free online.

Estelle Kennelly’s ‘Culture of Indifference: Dilemmas of the Filipina Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong’ covers the situation until 2007, but mainly focuses on the period from mid-1999 to early 2001. Kennelly worked with and around migrant women’s shelters, including those associated with the Mission for Migrant Workers.

Her major finding, which is obvious to many but should be stated openly, is that a culture of indifference towards foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong fosters abuse. The study, a PhD thesis, is a very important document.

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As previewed earlier on this blog, a seminar on legal rights for domestic helpers will be held on Sunday 27 July in the management seminar room, Discovery Bay Plaza. The seminar will open to all domestic helpers and their supporters, regardless of nationality.

Holly Allan, Discovery Bay resident and manager of Helpers for Domestic Helpers, will conduct the seminar. She is very good at covering issues of concern to all domestic helpers, and is always willing to answer questions.

The event should last from 2 to 3 hours, and we will announce the exact time and location early next week.

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