Stop the Abuse of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong

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When Erwiana arrived in Hong Kong to become a domestic worker, little did she know she would be tortured by her employers and treated like a prisoner. Little did she know she would be constantly beaten, sometimes even to the point of unconsciousness and denied the freedom to leave the house. Little did she know, her employer would even shove a metal vacuum tube into her mouth, cutting her lips in the process.


Although Erwiana’s story is extreme, it is by no case unique. Maryan, an Indonesian was forced to sleep in the toilet and work 16 hours at a time. Rutchel, a filipino, was forced to drink dirty water from a mop as punishment from rinsing it in the sink. Ester, was beaten with an iron and suffered a broken cheekbone. These are only a few stories of abused domestic workers in Hong Kong, one of the most valuable but most exploited populations of Hong Kong society.


In a city in which 1 in every 7 households has a foreign domestic worker, abuse and exploitation of domestic workers is shockingly common. In a survey conducted by Mission for Migrant Workers, out of the 3,000 domestic workers who were interviewed, more than 58% experienced verbal abuse, 18% physical abuse and 6% sexual abuse. There have been cases where helpers have been beaten to the point of unconsciousness, been called “stupid”, and told to “kill themselves,” have been starved and forced to sleep in toilets and cabinets. These types of abuse can seriously harm these helpers overall mental and physical well being, which can leave scars and cause disorders that can affect them for life.


There are many reasons for the prevalence of Domestic worker abuse in Hong Kong, but an obvious answer is the controversial two-week rule.


In Hong Kong, under the circumstance that a foreign domestic workers’ contract is terminated prematurely, they have 14 days to find a new employer before they are deported. No matter the reason for termination, may it be that she was abused, may it be that she had her passport withheld, may it be that she was not paid wages, the domestic worker is forced to leave Hong Kong, due to this two week rule.


According to the Secretary for Security David Jeaffreson, the two-week rule was put in place to “provide greater stability of employment” and prevent “job-hopping”, where workers change employers frequently to acquire severance benefits. However the problem of “job-hopping” is near to none as most helpers want to stay with their employers as long as they can, in fear of joblessness and high contract changing fees. Parichat Jaroennon, of the Thai Migrant Workers Union, says: "We are here in Hong Kong to make money for our families, not to play [the system]. If we change jobs, there are no advantages for us because we have to pay the agencies more fees." 

The two week rule incentivises abused domestic workers to keep quiet about their abusive situation, for fear of losing their jobs. Due to the fact that the process of finding a new employer takes around 4-6 weeks, finding a new job in 2 weeks is a near to impossible task. Borja, the secretary of Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers states that domestic workers who fail to find a new job in two weeks would “head back to the Philippines alive and kicking, but without money and without husbands. It's back to zero.” It is important to remember that these women who travel overseas to work in “slave-like” environments are not doing it because they can. They are fleeing poverty and joblessness, hoping that becoming an helper can allow them to provide for their family, while knowing the risks. Filipino helper Melanie, who was beaten by her employers says, “I was tortured but I never gave up because I was always thinking how to give money to my sons.”


Additionally, the two week rule prevents abused domestic worker from seeking justice, as a labour tribunal case as long as 2 months to process. If a domestic worker wants to remain in Hong Kong for this time, they must apply for a costly visa extension, in which they cannot work and must pay for their own housing and food. Therefore, in most cases domestic workers choose to stay silent and face abuse, than seek justice and risk being deported.

Not only that, domestic workers are often trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, due to agencies who use the two week rule to their advantage. As these agencies know that domestic workers are urgent to find new employers, they charge domestic hefty placement fees, which most domestic workers cannot afford. In some cases, domestic workers are forced to pay up to $24,000HKD for placement fees, leaving them in a staggering debts which they need to spend the rest of their lives trying to repay. Funtaniel, a domestic worker working in Hong Kong says, "Before I came here, I thought I'd have lots of money left for me," she says. "Now I realise that there is nothing after each remittance." Many domestic workers return home with less money than when they came.


The two week rule is an unjust, unreasonable regulation that perpetuates the vicious cycle of abuse and debt. More than 20 years have past since this oppressive and discriminatory rule was put into place and we cannot continue to allow this rule to ruin the lives of domestic workers living in Hong Kong. Domestic workers come here to work, not to be enslaved.


The two-week rule must be abolished!

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