Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Maid live-in rule must stay, says labour chief Matthew Cheung

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 January, 2014, 5:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:41am

Labour chief Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has flatly rejected calls to lift the live-in rule for foreign domestic helpers.

Last week's news that another maid had been abused sparked the latest demands from domestic helpers to allow them to live away from their bosses.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 23, says she was tortured by her female employer at the Tseung Kwan O home where she lived and worked for eight months.

She is now in hospital at home in Indonesia, recovering from injuries that left her unable to walk.

Dismissing helpers' demands, the labour minister insisted the requirement to live-in was a key condition that had been agreed upon by his bureau, the Security Bureau, and the Immigration Department.

"This is a matter of principle," Cheung said, adding that Hong Kong's 330,000 foreign domestic helpers were subject to less stringent rules than many others because there was a shortage of live-in maids.

To allow them to live elsewhere would overlap with the market for local domestic helpers, who do housework during the day or on hourly rates.

"Anyone who is deprived or abused should report the cases, as it is their right," Cheung said.

"We will pursue cases and penalise employers breaking the law."

Authorities will step up communication with employment agencies to ensure helpers are advised of their rights and the need to seek help as soon as possible if they are mistreated.

Police were initially accused of ignoring Erwiana's complaint, saying that they would not investigate further as her employment agency had failed to provide evidence.

A chief inspector, two senior inspectors and an officer are due to leave for the city of Sragen in Java tomorrow to investigate the case.

The Confederation of Trade Unions yesterday campaigned in Tsuen Wan for more rights for maids, while Amnesty International also added its voice.

Protesters also gathered outside Chan's Asia Recruitment Centre, the agency that introduced Erwiana to her employer.

The dozen or so demonstrators accused the agency of demanding Erwiana settle all outstanding placement fees before allowing her to leave Hong Kong, but a company spokesman rejected the claims.

Denise Wong Wan-sze, one of the protesters, asked for a review of the fees, which could add up to six months' salary. Wong also called for the live-in requirement to be abolished. "Living with your employer means being on standby round the clock," she said.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for Operation Migrants' Rescue Compatriots, said the International Labour Organisation's Domestic Workers Convention stated that living in should be optional. China has yet to ratify the convention.

In September, Catherine Au Yuk-shan was jailed for five and a half years, and her husband, Tai Chi-wai, for three years and three months for subjecting their Indonesian helper, Kartika Puspitasari, to two years of abuse.

Meanwhile, a 46-year-old woman was arrested last night for common assault after her domestic worker complained that the woman had assaulted her.