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HK Magazine Archive

Leading Ladies: Mabel Au, Amnesty International Hong Kong

The advocate for feminism and human rights talks about her early days as a documentarian and her experiences fighting for migrant workers’ rights.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:59pm

The director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, Mabel Au is an advocate for feminism and human rights. She talks about her early days as a documentarian and her experiences fighting for migrant workers’ rights.

“Hong Kong has the background of an international city... I do hope that people can embrace diversity.”

When I was a secondary school student, my friend asked me if I had any free time to volunteer for migrant workers—to talk to them in Cantonese and English, so they could learn from our conversation.

A lot of foreign domestic workers come here but don’t really know the language. Learning Cantonese and English helps with their work, especially when they go to markets to shop for food and ask about prices.

Some migrant workers who come from Indonesia don’t speak English at all and can’t navigate their contracts.

The more I got involved as a volunteer, the more I knew about the world, but the more I didn’t understand.

I didn’t understand why migrant workers had to work such long hours without any rest, or why workers who had accidents at work couldn’t get compensation.

In university, I studied film production. I made some documentaries involving labor disputes.

I filmed women workers in the clothing industry, and that helped me understand more about the lives of workers from different sectors.

I don’t have a domestic helper myself, as I live alone. Neither does my family—my mother helps take care of all the grandchildren.

I have a friend whose domestic helper is in a lot of debt. The helper became worried and depressed all the time, which affected my friend too.

The [illegal] agency fees are our top priority. We have been highlighting again and again that it’s unreasonable for workers to pay an equivalent of seven months wages in the first and second contracts.

The Erwiana case last year showed that they have no one to turn to. The frustrating thing is that we have not seen any improvements.

The Chief Executive promised to bring agencies and employers to justice if they violated the law. But up to now we’ve only heard of one to two that have been questioned by the government.

Even if you are not a domestic worker, you should support the migrant groups and demand the Hong Kong government regulates agencies.

Hong Kong has the background of an international city and people from different cultures. This is an asset. I do hope that people can embrace diversity.