• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:27am
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
NewsHong Kong

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.



Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Rowena should be applauded for speaking out about the abuse she has suffered. It is extremely difficult for helpers to complain about their employers. They lose their jobs and hence their income when they file a complaint.
Worse still, the Hong Kong government will not let them look for another job while a complaint is being processed- something that can take months to be resolved. This is extremely unjust. On the surface this looks like a deliberate government policy to suppress complaints (and the bad press such complaints generate) and allow Hong Kong employers to treat helpers in whatever way they want.
Helpers want to be here. Employers want them here. The solution is that helpers are treated with respect.
Like crime anywhere, it can probably never be completely eradicated but there are some good places to start.
The law in HK makes it hard for helpers to leave an abusive employer. If they report abuse then they cannot get another contract until that case is settled- something that may take months. Yet they need a job to support their families. This law should be changed.
Abuse also happens because of debt bondage- many Hong Kong agencies illegally charge helpers fees. Helpers sign contracts with loan sharks to repay the money so cannot leave an employer until the debt is paid. There needs to be much greater supervision of agencies. Lending institutions should not be allowed to lend to helpers.
Most agencies in Hong Kong are breaking the law by charging fees that are too high. Many also seem uninterested in the welfare of the helpers. There needs to be much more thorough supervision of agencies by the Labour Dept.
The Immigration and Labour Depts also need to held much more accountable for allowing employers who don't provide proper accommodation for helpers to employ helpers. Such employers should not be allowed to employ a helper.
Indonesia allows local agencies to charge ridiculously high fees for training helpers. The Indonesian government needs to change its policies.
In the Philippines, agency fees are limited by law and seem reasonable but many agencies abuse the system.The Philippines needs to take more responsibility to enforce its laws.
this is very ignorant to blame the victim. we have lots of cases in the world of young women imprisoned as sex slaves for years......bec they are terrified or lack the knowledge to ask for help. Of course Ms Law is innocent until proven guilty, but surely it is conceivable that the maid was too scared to take action, maybe too ignorant to ask for help, or maybe too forgiving, hoping that the employer will change? It;s just like religion...many supposedly intelligent.people believe in their god blindly, despite the fact that their god may have failed to answer their prayers, bec they cannot find an alternative to their beliefs.
we have to find the truth. blaming the victim is not a good first step.
gunzy, what a stupid question. its like asking how do we stop men from raping women, and how do we prevent it from happening in the first place., or asking the govt to stop fraud happening or a fire from starting.
it happens! u cant prevent it from happening. u can minimise it thru justice and improving best practices and policies...
Apart from the abuse that Rowena has suffered, what must also be of great concern is her claim that she was overcharged by her Hong Kong agency. The agency allegedly charged her $9110. The law allows the agency to charge her a maximum of $401.
A Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs survey conducted this year and reported in the SCMP found that 60% of helpers paid more than the legal limit to HK agencies to find them an employer and 15% paid more than $9000. These statistics show that the Labour Dept is doing AN APPALLING JOB of enforcing the law. Those in positions of responsibility need to be made ACCOUNTABLE for this failure.
The law is also totally INADEQUATE. The maximum fine an agency can face for breaking this law is something in the region of $50,000-$60,000. Anyone with elementary maths can see that it makes sense for the agency to overcharge. They only need to overcharge a handful of helpers and they have the money to pay any fine. Of course, almost none are fined anyway- ineffective Labour Dept.
There should be ZERO TOLERANCE for overcharging by agencies. Penalties should be a minimum of $500,000 and automatic suspension of the agency's license.
M Miyagi
Given the controversies over maids in HK it will be better if all maids are banned. Better for the HK people to do their own laundry, cooking and cleaning up. Also too many foreign maids in HK gives HK an unsavoury flavour especially since a lot of expatriates with maids are involved in sexual abuse of their maids.
you should move to spore. they like your type of solution for problems....just ban, fine ,cane and jail everything that doesnt work.
I agree that we shouldnt tar everyone with the same brush. Not all employers are that bad and I have a niggling feeling that we havent seen the last of these cases. What worries me is that there might be some opportunists who use this as an excuse to extort money from their employers. Maybe that's already happening.
I say we should send all maids back home, make HK people do their own chores and clean their own homes, and raise their own children for a change.



SCMP.com Account