A domestic helper who took her employer to court to recoup owed wages has settled for HK$78,000 less than her original claim instead of waiting for a court ruling.
Following a suggestion from the Labour Tribunal's presiding officer, Sendi Febrina took the HK$20,000 offered rather than fight on.
"I need to go home, my father is very ill," said Febrina, whose visa will expire in November.
The 27-year-old Indonesian left her employer in August 2011. By that point, she says, Mandy Kwan Ching-sze owed her five months' salary. Her original claim against Kwan was for HK$38,000, which included the cost of a plane ticket home, compensation for not being paid to work during holidays and HK$21,000 in agency fees, which Kwan had taken from her salary but not given to the agent.
Following the advice of a pro bono lawyer, Febrina amended her claim to include HK$60,000 to account for lost wages and living expenses for the past year.
Febrina, who has been diagnosed with clinical depression and has been living in a shelter, attended half a dozen court hearings in which she said presiding officers consistently ignored evidence she submitted while encouraging both parties to settle out of court.
In July, Febrina's case landed on the desk of the tribunal's presiding officer, Ivy Chui Yee-mei, for the fourth time in eight months. The officer expressed her irritation at both Febrina and Kwan for being disorganised.
At the latest hearing on Thursday, Febrina told the presiding officer that Kwan had submitted payment receipts to the court that contained forgeries of her signature.
Febrina was told: "If we have to make a conclusion on whether or not the signatures were forged, we would have to take it to forensics. If that happens, the case will drag on for two to three months at least … you should consider reaching a settlement out of court."
That afternoon, Febrina accepted Kwan's offer to pay her HK$20,000 - HK$78,000 less than her claim.
The outcome shows the difficulties foreign domestic helpers face in Hong Kong's Labour Tribunal when they challenge former employers for pay they claim is owed to them - backing up a recent Sunday Morning Post investigation, which found that one-third of helpers end up dropping their cases.