Hong Kong under pressure to improve rights of city's 300,000 maids

Indonesian politician, UN advocate for migrants express concern about helpers' lack of rights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:12am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 September, 2015, 8:18pm

Hong Kong is facing external pressure to bolster the basic rights of the city's 300,000 migrant domestic workers in the wake of the alleged abuse of an Indonesian maid by her employer.

An Indonesian politician said the country's parliament would pursue a new law protecting its citizens coming to work in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, a United Nations monitor urged the Hong Kong government to relax the two-week rule for maids seeking new contracts and step up inspections to ensure adequate accommodation for live-in maids.

Mardiana Indraswati, a member of Indonesia's House of Representatives, said yesterday that the legislature might pass a new law to protect migrant workers following the alleged abuse suffered by Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.

The lawmaker made the remarks after visiting Erwiana in hospital in Sragen, Central Java.

"This case could be used to put into place a new law to protect all migrant workers," Mardiana said. "The parliament is now discussing this proposed law, which may prohibit local agencies from sending workers abroad without giving them adequate preparation and safety training."

François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said there would be less abuse if labour inspectors were allowed into homes employing live-in maids but conceded it would be very difficult for Hongkongers to accept.

"We should have labour inspections in homes. That is something I'm advocating," said Crépeau. "I'm not sure Hong Kong is ready to do that. I don't think families want inspections inside the family home, and might find it offensive and this implies there needs to be a cultural change."

Crépeau said extending the period for which a maid could stay in Hong Kong after ending a contract from two weeks to three months would provide immediate relief to those in precarious situations and wanting to leave their place of employment without fear of being deported.

Asked if Hong Kong would benefit from independent analysis that Crépeau could provide, he said: "I don't have plans to go to Hong Kong at present, and my request for permission and invitation to go might not be accepted [by the Hong Kong government]."

Erwiana has been undergoing medical treatment in Indonesia since she left Hong Kong on January 10. She had arrived in Hong Kong to work as a helper in May last year.

Her 44-year-old employer, named in court documents yesterday as Law Wan-tun, was arrested and charged after another helper told police she had been abused by the housewife.

Mardiana's visit followed a phone call by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Erwiana and her father on Tuesday morning. The president expressed "anger and concern" over the alleged abuse of one of the country's helpers and promised to cover all of Erwiana's medical fees.

Four Hong Kong police officers, led by Chief Inspector Chung Chi-ming, and two Labour Department officials have been working with local authorities in Sragen since Monday to investigate Erwiana's case.

Chung said on Tuesday that their work in Sragen was nearly complete and that they would soon pass on Erwiana's formal statement, medical records and additional witness testimony to colleagues in Hong Kong for court proceedings.

He said no decision had been made on whether Erwiana would need to return to Hong Kong to assist in court proceedings.