An international news magazine has headlined a reference to Indonesian maids as Hong Kong's modern-day slaves. This was prompted by alleged serial assault of a maid by her local employers, widely reported here and abroad. It is unfair to most employers and an undeserved slur on the city's reputation. Nonetheless, such abuse must be condemned in the strongest terms.
Legal protections may be better in Hong Kong than in other markets for foreign domestic workers, but the case in point raises questions about their conditions. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was reported at one stage to be critically ill in an Indonesian hospital after eight months of alleged physical abuse by her employer in Tseung Kwan O. Another Indonesian maid has since come forward with similar allegations against the same employer dating back more than three years. The questions raised include whether an employment agency should have reported alleged abuse to the police earlier, and whether the authorities should relax the requirement that maids live in and find another job within two weeks if sacked.
Are these two cases truly a reflection of Hong Kong people? If the mutual trust and respect expected of a normal domestic relationship does not prevent mental and physical abuse, a live-in employer-employee relationship in which one party has all the power is unlikely to be immune to it. Given that there are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in this city, mostly required to live with their employers, serious cases investigated by police are relatively few and far between. Sadly, anecdotal evidence is more common.
It is important for the city's reputation, therefore, that the police investigate Erwiana's case with diligence and urgency. So it is good to hear from police sources that officers will travel to Indonesia to interview her. We trust she stands by her reported willingness to return to help with the investigation, so the authorities can get to the bottom of it speedily and in a manner fair to all parties.