I’ve been noticing recently the way that, not only are the systems in this country set up against the average domestic helper (DH), but are often quite hypocritical. For instance:
*If a migrant worker participates in illegal work (this is classified as any work outside of the stated address on the employment contract) and reports it to Immigration, they are arrested. If the employer asks (read “forces”) the DH to work illegally (this is very common, as the employer wants you to not only clean their house, but their mother’s house, their sister’s house and their cousin’s husband’s office) and they refuse, then report it to Immigration, they are told that there is no “evidence” and the case is dropped; though first a letter is sent to the employer, who then terminates the DH upon finding they have complained. If an employer forces a DH into illegal work, they report it and Immigration believes the evidence, then an arrest is made. Only, its the DH who is arrested and promptly deported, while the employer just moves on to the next worker.
*If a DH’s passport has been confiscated and they report the matter to Immigration or the Labour Department, they are told to contact the police. If the DH contacts the police and it is the employer who has confiscated the passport, and the DH is still employed by that employer, it is called a “domestic matter” over which the police have no control. If they are no longer employed, the police cannot “force” the employer to relinquish the passport (even though it is a violation of Hong Kong and International law to confiscate another person’s personal documents). If it is the employment agency who has confiscated the passport, the police will help, but grudgingly. If an agency insists that the DH gave them the passport for safe keeping, the agency is automatically let off the hook with no chance at prosecution (guess how often agencies use that line!) And to make matters worse, if a DH is caught on the street without their passport (because its been confiscated) it is deemed a “prosecutable offense” laden with fines and possible jail time.
*If a DH is underpaid and they report the matter to the Labour Department, the Labour Dept. will promptly send a letter of enquiry to the employer to clarify the matter. Of course, the DH is immediately fired for snitching, the employment agency swoops in and ships the DH home before they even have the chance to claim their wages in arrears, which is their legal right as migrant workers in Hong Kong. If the DH does not report the underpayment and are terminated for another reason and the case is taken to the Labour Department, the court doesn’t believe the DH was underpaid because why would anyone work that long and remain underpaid and not report it? (hummm, could be cause they are afraid of being terminated, or because they are never made aware of their legal rights as migrants to report job abuse, or maybe even because they never even knew there was a legal minimum wage in Hong Kong in the first place!)
*If there is the off-chance that the court believes the DH that the employer had been underpaying their wages, denying rest days or some other contract violation, the DH is then asked to be a witness in a prosecution case against the employer. But, these cases often take anywhere for 4-6 months, and a DH is not allowed by Hong Kong law to be employed while involved in a case (labour, immigration or criminal). So how is the witness supposed to support themselves for 4-6 months, not to mention their family back home, while waiting to be a witness? The government sure doesn’t provide any assistance! Because no one ever pursues the chance to be a witness against the employer, cases are constantly dropped, and the government states that underpayment must not actually be a problem if no one is willing to take the stand.
*Finally, just a personal pet peeve. Why can the judge be 45 minutes late for a hearing, and everyone still has to stand and bow when he enters (in his white powered wig, I’m so not joking), but if anyone in the court is so much as 5 minutes late, the hearing is delayed or the judge reprimands them in front of the entire court.
That is just a glimpse into what I, and nearly 300,000 migrant workers, deal with every day. Injustice clothed with frilly terms like “worker’s rights” and “opportunity.”