This is an article I wrote for the most recent Migrant Focus.
Steps Towards Justice
Like most domestic workers, Pam* came to Hong Kong from Indonesia with the hope of earning money to help support her family back home. She began working for her employer in July 2005, but unfortunately, was taken advantage of by her employer. Pam’s employer was underpaying her salary. While she should have been paid $3,320 a month, she was only receiving $1,900 a month. There were also many weeks, sometimes months at a time, that Pam went without a rest day. Her employer told her that she would compensate her for the times that she wasn’t allowed to take a rest day, but even then, she was only given an extra $100 a month for every month she didn’t have rest days. By March of 2007, Pam decided she had been taken advantage of long enough, and decided to constructively terminate her contract with her employer, due to the underpayment of salary and lack of proper rest days. She came to the Mission for Migrant Workers and the Bethune House for advice and shelter. A week after leaving her employer’s house, Pam filed a labour claim against her employer, asking for compensation for rest days and the 20 months of underpayment, but no decision was made in the Labour Department and in April 2007 the case was sent to the Labour Tribunal.
After four hearings at the Labour Tribunal over the course of 4 months, the Labour Tribunal decided to suspend the labour case for 3 months while the case was investigated. In December the Prosecution Division of the Labour Department began a full investigation. Pam, her counselor from the Mission and another counselor connected with Pam’s case, were all asked to be witnesses against the employer. They each met with the Prosecution Division in Admiralty to give statements regarding Pam’s case, and the Division also met with the employer and investigated forms of payment and statements. Pam reported a total for 4 times to the Prosecution Division, and in June 2008 the case finally went to court.
Before the result of the court case came through, Pam dealt with a lot of emotions, from fear to depression. A previous case similar to Pam’s had resulted only in community service for the employer, no money for the client, and Pam was worried that all of this time may have been wasted. Times were tense leading up to the court result. But when the result was given, there was a new emotion – joy. The employer ended up pleading guilty to the court, meaning that Pam and the other witnesses did not have to appear in court. The employer was ordered to pay $10,000 in fines for underpayment, on top of the $27,000 in labour claims. The case is being reviewed by the Immigration Department, and at the end of July Pam will be able to return home for the first time in over two years. There is a little irony to be found in the dates of this case. Pam started her contract in July 2005, and ended her labour and court cases at what would have been the end of the contract had the employer followed the rules and regulations set by the Hong Kong Government in the Employment Ordinance. After Pam returns home, she can begin to look for a new employer in Hong Kong if she chooses. This time, Pam will know her rights before signing a new contract and will be able to enter into a new employment situation with the confidence of someone who knows how to stand up for herself.
While Pam’s case was long, tiring and at times, overwhelming, the migrant community should be thankful for all of the effort she put in to fighting for justice from her employer. Pam’s employer clearly violated the Hong Kong Labour laws, and because of Pam’s willingness and determination to see this case through to the end, justice was won. Every hearing, every statement and every visa extension has put not just Pam, but the entire migrant community, one step closer to justice for all migrant workers. This cases shows that migrants in Hong Kong are willing to fight back, to stand up for their rights, and that those who violate the law will eventually be brought to justice. So thank you to Pam for fighting and for not giving up. This migrant community is seeking justice one step, one case, at a time.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the client.