Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Imprisoned and beaten: Second helper tells of escape from violent Hong Kong employer

Hong Kong woman arrested but not charged after Filipino helper said she was imprisoned and beaten from the day she arrived in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 May, 2014, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 3:03pm

Another domestic helper has come forward claiming she was verbally and physically abused by her female employer for nine months.

Following the alleged abuse case of Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Filipino Rowena Uychiat claimed today she was imprisoned at her employer’s home in Yau Yat Tseun, Kowloon Tong, from the day she arrived in Hong Kong on July 22 last year and eventually escaped to seek refuge in the Mission for Migrant Workers shelter.

At a press conference today, organised by the Justice for Erwiana and All Migrant Domestic Workers Committee, she said: “I was shouted at, called stupid and abused verbally.” Wiping tears from her face, the 37-year-old widow said she was constantly beaten with a wooden stick, slapped, kicked and had her hair pulled.

Uychiat, who has previously worked as a helper in Kuwait, claimed all her documents were taken from her and she wasn’t even allowed to leave the house to collect her Hong Kong identification card or send payment balance to her recruitment agency in the Philippines. She also said the agency had illegally charged her HK$9,100.

After months of abuse, the mother of two children said she finally called a relative for help when her employer was on holiday last month, and was referred to the Mission for Migrant Workers at St John’s Cathedral in Central, who took her in.

The police were called and a criminal investigation is in progress. Uychiat is also pursuing a civil compensation case.

Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, the general manager of the Missions for Migrant Workers shelters, said: “We see a lot of stuff like this, but we respect their decision on whether or not to go public on the matter."

She added that they currently have 27 domestic helpers living at the shelter, including Indian and Sri-lankan helpers, despite the small number from these countries working in Hong Kong.

Abdon-Tellez said that physical and verbal abuse was common. “It’s very tough for them, because of the long period of resolution of cases. It’s a dilemma for them because they cannot find work in the meantime, and many would rather go home,” she said.

Eman Villanueva from the Asian Migrants’ Co-ordinating Body said, however, that catching abusive employers is not enough.

He accused the Hong Kong government of dismissing Indonesian helper Erwiana’s case as a one-off, but said the number of abuse cases being exposed indicates that “abuse happens as a rule rather than an isolation”.

“A bad employer could abuse one, two, five or 10 migrant workers; but a bad policy will affect all migrant workers,” he said. “Bad policies are even more dangerous.”

Villanueva called for the government to abolish the two-week rule, requiring dismissed helpers to leave Hong Kong within that time, and the live-in requirement, which requires helpers to reside with employers. As well, he called for the government to regulate recruitment agencies and punish employers and agencies who break the law.

The spotlight has turned on the plight of migrant domestic workers since the case of Erwiana, who was allegedly severely abused by her former employer.

Law Wan-tung, 44, faces 25 summonses for suspected breaches of the Employment Ordinance in addition to seven criminal charges of physically abusing the maid.

The case has been adjourned to May 20 in Kwun Tong Court.