• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 7:16pm
NewsHong Kong

Amnesty urges Indonesia, China to ratify domestic workers convention

'Slave-like' conditions of Indonesian helpers in city highlighted by human rights group, which says employers are allowed to flout labour laws

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 10:46am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 10:13am


  • Yes: 36%
  • No: 35%
  • To a certain degree: 29%
21 Nov 2013
  • Yes
  • No
  • To a certain degree
Total number of votes recorded: 575

Amnesty International has urged Indonesia and China to ratify an international convention on working conditions for foreign domestic helpers.

The call comes after a study found that Hong Kong's 148,000 Indonesian domestic helpers work in "slave-like" conditions.

"It is inexcusable that the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments turn a blind eye to the trafficking of thousands of vulnerable women for forced labour," Norma Kang Muico, an Asia-Pacific researcher at the human rights body, said yesterday.

The husband verbally abused me, calling me crazy and stupid. He also slapped and punched me in the ear, arm and back, which left bruises

The study, which included 97 in-depth interviews with Indonesian helpers from May last year to March this year, found that they worked on average 17 hours a day, half were denied their statutory weekly day off and two-thirds had been physically or verbally abused.

Video: Hong Kong domestic workers 'treated as slaves': Amnesty

Almost all the helpers had their passports or contracts confiscated by local agencies or employers in case they attempted to run away to escape exploitation.

"The husband verbally abused me, calling me crazy and stupid," said one domestic helper quoted in the report. "He also slapped and punched me in the ear, arm and back, which left bruises."

Muico said that 10 countries, including the Philippines - the other main source of Hong Kong's domestic helpers - had ratified the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

It states that each member shall take measures to protect the human rights of domestic workers, and ensure that they are protected against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence.

Workers' rest breaks have to be at least 24 consecutive hours per week and measures must be taken to ensure the fees charged by employment agencies are not deducted from the helpers' pay.

The Indonesian government allows the country's agencies to charge domestic workers about HK$10,300 in recruitment fees. The Hong Kong government also allows local agencies to charge 10 per cent of their first month's salary, or HK$401.

Muico recalled that Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in 2011 that his country "must support" the convention and that he believed it could provide guidance on protecting domestic workers to governments which send and those which host them, but Indonesia had still not ratified it.

Muico said the Hong Kong government should pursue with Beijing the ratification of the convention, as the SAR government was not an ILO member.

Neither the Indonesian consulate nor the Labour Department commented on the convention, but both said they were fully committed to protecting the Indonesian helpers.

Sam Aryadi, vice-consul for public affairs, said that 26 agencies had received punishments such as warnings or suspension of licences since 2009. In addition, 190 employers were permanently barred from hiring Indonesian helpers.

The department has conducted 958 inspections at agencies last year, and 784 inspections in the first nine months this year. Two agencies had their licences revoked last year and three from January to September this year.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, vice-chairwoman of the General Chamber of Manpower Agencies, disagreed with the findings and said abuses were rare.


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This article is now closed to comments

I did not grow up in Hong Kong and I know others would have a hard time believing it. But domestic helpers can spin lies so well and so easily. Amnesty international have fallen for the biggest orcastrated trick of all times.
Domestic helpers have shared the same stories so often that it just becomes second nature for them to spew the story out as if it happened to them when it is just a story they heard.
I had 3 maids before and I heard the exact same stories from all 3. No variation and they all claimed it happened to them. Even the story of having a past employer who lived in Singapore but moved to Hong Kong I heard from 2 of them.
The gossip and the stories became so annoying that I will only hire local Hong Kong helpers. The last 3 years with local helpers has been the best 3 years. No nightly **** to deal with. No lies to listen to. No excusesto hear.
I am just so glad I am no longer one of the suckers who has to deal with a domestic helper.
Let's start promoting after school child care, shorter working hours and local helpers. People's sanity will improve.
Do you know what our helper demanded when she started to work with us? She wants to work on Sundays and holiday to earn more money. She doesn't want to have rest days and holidays as she said: "I am not here do make holiday". If we do not agree she won't extend her contract and will look for another employer.
It is sometimes their own will to do so and skip the Rest Days and Holidays. As I have 2 kids at home, I was ok with it and pay her more. But you presented this as if we are forcing them to skip their holidays and rest days.
Like others here have said already, there definitely are some helpers who are treated like slaves or worse. But it's unfair to the majority of employers in Hong Kong employers who are decent to generalise that all of them are like that. I would also say that this article is extremely one sided. Firstly, it doesn't mention any of the bad actions which maids sometimes commit against their employers. Secondly, there's also no mention of the surely countless stories of maids' lives changed for the better by having the opportunity to work here. No the system is not perfect and probably never will be. But I'm sure it's not as bad as this article would have you believe.
They can still choose not to accept the work here, not to come to Hk and they can leave legally any time they want.
Did anyone interview employers' whose trust was abused by the helper? I expect criticisms to what I will post here but it's a true case. My helper was with us for 8 years, she got all the "red day" holidays but had a choice to work and she would get 150% salary for that day. Domestic helpers are only entitled to labour holidays so it was a very fair deal for her. When she offered to take over the car cleaning she got extra. Every year we gave her 2 weeks of paid leave to go home including air fare over Xmas and one time she flew business class because flights were full. Accommodation was her own private room in a 3 bedrooms apartment, shared all our meals, took taxis for heavy groceries shopping etc. She only had to cook for a family of 3, no pets. When I was suddenly hospitalized when my partner was away she refused to come to the hospital with essentials despite I was staying in a private room and told a 14 year old who thought her mum was dying that she would have to fend for herself over 4 days of Easter because she refused to stay in. After this sorry episode I let her go and have never employed another helper. HK people should learn that life doesn't come to an inconvenient ending without a helper.
The Indonesian Government should seek compensation and demand an apology from CY Leung and the pan-democrats for the emotional and physical trauma these domestic helpers had to endure. A one month deadline must be applied and an economic sanction warning be given if substantial progress not be reached within the one month time frame.
I wouldnt tar all employers with the same brush though admittedly some employers have given HK a bad name by the way they maltreat the domestic helpers. I would hope that the court case has some deterrent effect on the barbaric employers. Domestic helpers are just that. They came to help albeit for a paltry fee and they should be treated humanely.
About time some group came out to stand for the domestic workers in HK.........HK employers are the worse in the world in the way they treat their domestic helpers.......the employers feel that for the measly couple of thousand dollars they pay a month, they can treat a domestic helper like slaves........would love to see how the local useless employers survive if they had no helper around.
To have a fruitful discussion it's important first to define what kind of treatment is fair and acceptable. Secondly it doesn't matter how other countries treat their maids or how their home countries treat them or how little money they can earn there. We are talking about us here in Hong Kong.
Ask yourself this simple question: do I want to be treated by my boss the same way I treat my maid ?
Do I want to be ordered:
- to work from 6 am till 11 pm 6 days a week (sometimes 7 days) ?
- to work during my holidays ?
- physically abused if i make a mistake ?
- to be told by my boss what time I shall be home during my holiday ?
- to surrender my passport to my boss ?
- to sleep in a store room or in the kitchen ?
Is anyone considering the above as fair treatment ?
Unfortunately, it's not a little minority of employers but a shocking high percentage who treat their maids unfair and in a way they would never allow their bosses to treat them.
Amnesty should go to Singapore and see what being treated like a slave is really like!



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