Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

‘Employers are victims too’: man wrongly accused of maid abuse wants to help others like himself

He was cleared of charges, but says his family went through ‘a year of pain’, and would like to set up a support organisation for employers exploited by their domestic helpers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 8:53am

When Haravtar Singh Brar arrived to a flurry of flashlights from the press awaiting his plea hearing at Tsuen Wan Court last December, he felt shocked, humiliated, and appalled at the lack of support for employers accused of mistreating their foreign domestic helpers.

“I was made the villain even without the judge declaring I did anything wrong,” he said, recalling the hostility he faced.

Brar, an Indian court interpreter, was no stranger to courts. But his experience on the other side of the courtroom turned out to be a nasty affair, marked by negative coverage and protests from labour unions.

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A few months on, he is now planning to set up an organisation to help troubled employers from South Asia, with an office that will allow them to drop by whenever they need help – even financially.

There are currently just a handful of groups for the employers of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, in contrast with a vast array of labour unions representing some 336,000 domestic workers from across Asia.

According to the Labour Department, Hong Kong courts heard five summonses on wage-related offences allegedly committed by employers of foreign domestic helpers in the first six months of this year, none of which led to a conviction.

Brar, 30, was tried in May on four summons charges of failing to pay Rani Kaur on time, and one of failing to pay wages within the due date of termination of service. The prosecution came after they had settled at Labour Tribunal, for Brar to pay his former Indian help HK$20,000 and buy her a flight ticket.

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Kaur, a 49-year-old widow, had testified that she was made to work 15 hours a day without pay or holiday for four months from January to May last year, despite repeatedly “begging” for her salary.

The wages in arrears totalled nearly HK$15,000, according to prosecutors. Special Magistrate Andrew Mok Tsz-chung eventually dismissed the case, following repeated questions over Kaur’s credibility in court.

But Brar was not sure if that concluded the “year of pain” for him and his family as they had spent HK$100,000 in legal fees on the ordeal that left his wife diagnosed with depression.

I was made the villain even without the judge declaring I did anything wrong
Haravtar Singh Brar

Brar claimed his family had bonded with Kaur since her arrival in January last year. “We thought she was the right candidate for us,” he said. On Mother’s Day, they gave Kaur a purse to thank her for caring for their only son, 4. But Brar said three men knocked on his door and asked to talk to Kaur just hours later.

Suspecting that he was being threatened for refusing her request to attain permanent residence in Hong Kong, Brar terminated her employment.

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Brar said he had paid Kaur on time every month, and kept her wages in a locked drawer at her request as she did not have a bank account.

“I was made a victim by a domestic helper,” he continued. “No one sees how employers are exploited.”

Kaur could not be reached for comment. Meanwhile, Leo Tang Kin-wah, organising secretary for the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, maintained that her case was a serious state of slavery. “We respect the court ruling. But at the same time we understand her difficulties testifying as a witness,” he added.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee of the Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association welcomed Brar’s plans set to up a new organisation.

“It’s encouraging to see new groups being set up but organisers must be familiar with local employment and immigration laws as well as the practices of employment agencies,” the founding chairwoman of the 30-year-old group warned.