Three years and waiting: Indonesian helper still owed money locked into welfare account of dead Hong Kong boss

Back home in Surabaya, Sri Agustini urges the Social Welfare Department to release the HK$21,000 due to her after serving disabled employer for over seven years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 8:00am

For more than seven years, Sri Agustini worked around the clock. Even as she slept, it was with one eye open, just in case her quadriplegic employer needed assistance to turn in bed or go to the bathroom.

“At first I couldn’t wake up – she had to call out for me in a loud voice,” the Indonesian recalled in fluent Cantonese. “Sometimes she wouldn’t sleep.”

It was not an easy job.

Despite her dedication to the job, Agustini was not rewarded with long-service pay, or even a paid ticket home, when she was suddenly dismissed after her employer Fung Ying, 55, died in October 2013. Those payments were locked in Fung’s welfare accounts.

Her entitlements – including 12 days of annual leave – amounted to HK$21,616, or 36.75 million Indonesian rupiah.

Now back home in Surabaya, a port city on the Indonesian island of Java, Agustini is struggling to feed her family of six and is borrowing money just to buy milk powder for her one-year-old twins.

Back in Hong Kong, her late employer’s sister Fung Kam-yuen, 55, was stockpiling milk powder in her Lei Tung Estate flat to mail her. “Turns out exports of milk formula are banned,” she said, before turning to ask Agustini in a video conference call to come back to Hong Kong.

Agustini’s case has shed light on the treatment of foreign domestic helpers hired using the Social Welfare Department’s Care and Attention Allowance (C&A), which was introduced in June 2004 for quadriplegics who received Comprehensive Social Security Allowance.

I don’t want to sue them, I just want to get back the money
Sri Agustini

The C&A allowance had benefitted 152 quadriplegic recipients as of June 30 this year.

It covers much of the expenses involved in hiring foreign domestic carers, including their monthly salary plus one-off expenses for their insurance, air ticket and long-service payment.

Like other welfare payments from the department, the funds would only be released to families upon the department’s receipt of a notification of claim against the late employer’s estate.

According to a department letter seen by the Post, Fung had HK$23,078 of allowance locked in her welfare account, to be transferred into her estate once her probate grant was submitted.

But they have yet to collect her grant as Fung’s mother, who had priority in making the application, soon died and the family did not have all the required documents.

The department said through a spokeswoman that it had been actively looking into feasible ways to make the payments as soon as possible since Agustini’s case was referred back to them last month.

An alternative lies in suing the Fung family through the Labour Tribunal. But Agustini said: “I don’t want to sue them, I just want to get back the money. It should be the Social Welfare Department paying, not [Fung’s] family.”

The Social Welfare Department is simply placing a minority to take care of another minority as a solution to the social problem
Leo Tang Kin-wah, Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union

Leo Tang Kin-wah of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union, who was introduced to Agustini through her agent, demanded the department exercise discretion.

He questioned why domestic helpers were not directly paid by the department when the existing arrangement left employers at risk of breaking the law.

“Each employer has many responsibilities to their foreign domestic helpers but Fung Ying obviously did not have the capacity to fulfil them,” Tang said. “The Social Welfare Department is simply placing a minority to take care of another minority as a solution to the social problem.”

Her sister Kam-yuen recalled that she was regularly asked to witness salary payments every month and to take turns with her siblings in helping Ying to fill in forms.

The department said its staff would remind recipients of their statutory obligations under the Employment Ordinance and Immigration Ordinance in hiring domestic helpers.

“To ensure that the allowance has been spent for the intended purpose, [the department] will carry out regular case reviews and check salary receipts, the employment contract and receipts for other expenses,”it added.