Maids protest at agency abuses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


More than 100 Indonesian domestic helpers took to the streets of Central yesterday to protest against what they say is collusion between Jakarta government officials and unscrupulous employment agents.

They held demonstrations as their country's president, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, made an official visit to the city.

The helpers were also marching against a proposed 40 per cent rise in the price of oil in their country, which they say will force more Indonesians to move abroad, and into abuse and exploitation.

'The lack of action makes our governments complicit [in the abuses],' said Eni Lestari of the Alliance of Indonesian Migrant Workers to Scrap Law 39.

Yudhoyono last night met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen at the end of a week-long trip to China.

Lestari says women who are exploited and abused by agencies do not have any way to seek redress with the Hong Kong government which 'pass[es] the buck' to the Indonesian government.

'They don't do anything when we complain, saying, 'It's because of your country's policy',' said Lestari, who would like to see her government take a more active stance in dealing with issues of agency fees, passport confiscation by employers, underpayment, illegal work and lack of rest days. With a monthly income of just HK$3,740, many maids are forced to pay a HK$21,000 agency fee to move to the city and find employment, placing them in debt to the agencies for months.

It's a situation faced by a growing number of Indonesian migrant workers as unemployment in the country pushes more and more of its population abroad.

Over the last few decades, Hong Kong families have become reliant on domestic helpers to aid them with day-to-day household duties, childcare and care for an increasingly elderly population.

More than 300,000 domestic helpers work in the city, half of whom are from Indonesia.

Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse worldwide because they are most likely not covered by labour and industrial relations laws, according to a 2010 report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Even in Hong Kong, where there are ordinances protecting the rights of labourers, the 'private' nature of domestic work makes enforcement and monitoring of such laws difficult, says the IOM.

Jakarta imposed a ban on sending maids to neighbouring Malaysia in 2009 after a spate of severe abuse cases. More abuses were uncovered in 2010 in Saudi Arabia, with female domestic helpers severely beaten, slashed and intimidated.

'Again and again we hear about slavery-like conditions, torture, sexual abuse and even death, but our government has chosen to ignore it. Why? Because migrant workers generate US$7.5 billion in foreign exchange every year,' said Wahyu Susilo, a policy analyst at Indonesian advocacy group Migrant Care when the Saudi abuses came to light.

Indonesia has since said it will, from 2018, permit only those who have graduated from senior secondary school to work abroad, in an attempt to minimise the unfair treatment of maids overseas.

Yudhoyono returns to Indonesia today.