The government must do more to help foreign domestic workers in the city understand their rights better and prevent abusive practices by employers, former lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing said.
The maids, meanwhile, must speak up boldly if they suffer abuse, the liberal politician said on Thursday, pointing out that help can be offered only if people voice their distress and grievances.
Speaking at a press briefing organized by a non-profit organization that deals with issues related to migrant workers, Lau urged foreign maids to have faith in local authorities when it comes to seeking help and justice in case of mistreatment at the hands of employers.
Apart from the government, workers can also approach NGOs and social welfare groups, she said.
Holly Allan, director of Helpers for Domestic Helpers, a non-profit organization that provides free advice and assistance to domestic workers, said not all foreign domestic helpers are treated fairly in Hong Kong when it comes to working hours and holidays.
What’s worse, some maids even have to endure mistreatment from their employers, she said at the media briefing.
According to Allan, her organization has seen about a thousand domestic helpers approach it every year seeking help.
One case last year involved a 38-year-old Indonesian maid who was overworked and not fed properly, she said.
The maid was asked to take care of her employer’s son, daughter-in-law and their new-born baby, going beyond what was required of her in the employment contract that began in February 2016.
As result, Ati, the maid, had to start her daily work at 10am at the home of the employer’s son, who was living separately, and return to duties at the employer’s home at 5pm.
Doing double-duty at two homes, Ati could only go to bed at around 3am, putting in a total of 17 hours daily doing various chores.
Also, the maid was not given enough food, causing her to lose 15kg of body weight during her eight months of work for the employer.
According to Allan, the maid was given two pieces of cookies and a coffee for breakfast, while a lunch usually comprised instant noodles.
Despite the ill-treatment, Ati was too scared to file a complaint, Allan said, according to Sing Tao Daily.
But the Indonesian national eventually couldn’t take it anymore and sought the help of Allan’s organization.
With the group’s assistance, Ati was able to lodge a petition with the Labour Tribunal which ruled in December that the worker should be compensated for her suffering.
Another case cited by Allan was of a 35-year-old Filipino maid who was forced to sleep on sofa in the living room by her employer and also suffered verbal and physical abuse.
Allan said the system makes it hard for mistreated maids to file lawsuits because the workers find it difficult to provide evidence.
There is also another problem as the maids are required to leave Hong Kong within two weeks once their contracts are terminated.
Lau, the former lawmaker, noted that although the government distributes brochures to teach foreign maids about their rights and instruct them on complaint filing procedure, it helps little as the brochures are left at employment agencies and very few actually end up in the hands of the maids.
Given the situation, authorities should consider making it mandatory for every foreign maid to attend a seminar to learn about their rights soon after they arrive in Hong Kong, Lau said.
It is estimated that there are currently about 340,000 foreign maids working in Hong Kong.
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