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

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.