A 58-year-old woman was arrested in Mid-Levels yesterday after a Bangladeshi domestic helper reported her employer to police on Saturday for allegedly hitting her and pulling her hair.
The 27-year-old maid was allegedly attacked after she complained to her employment agency that she was being mistreated by her employer.
The news came as Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung revealed that Indonesian officials had responded "positively" to a suggestion that Jakarta grant low-interest loans to Indonesian maids working in Hong Kong. The loans would help domestic helpers pay fees owed to their recruitment agencies, debts which often inhibit maids from quitting working for abusive employers or from reporting abuse.
Cheung met officials at the Indonesian consulate after a number of recent abuse allegations involving Indonesian maids.
"Many foreign domestic helpers - especially Indonesian workers - already have a big sum of training and agency fees that they have to deal with before they start working," Cheung said.
"Recently, I spoke to Indonesian officials about whether the Indonesian government can have sympathy for their people and provide them with a low-interest loan ... Their preliminary official response was positive."
The debts that maids owe to recruitment agencies have inhibited them from quitting or reporting abuse, said Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body spokeswoman Eni Lestari. They feared that if they lost their job they would not be able to pay the debt, and the agency might seek payment from their families at home.
But Eni added that a loan would not help. Her group had been asking the Indonesian government to provide helpers with training, instead of allowing agencies to fill the gap.
When they start working in Hong Kong, the maids usually have to pay back about HK$2,600 a month to agencies in the first six months, she said. For those who are underpaid, it may mean having no wages for half a year.
Meanwhile, the Technic Employment Service Centre confirmed that the Bangladeshi maid allegedly abused by her employer had been registered with the agency since October.
"She came to our centre on Friday complaining that her hands were hurting from dryness and her employer wouldn't let her wear gloves," said Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, the centre's managing director. "We gave her some cream. She worked slowly as her hands hurt, and the employer shouted at her. [The employer] might have hit her after that.
"When she complained, we contacted the employer and asked her not to do that."
A translator who accompanied the maid said she was not seriously injured, Liu added. The employer, a retired mother of two, was released on bail last night. She had not been charged.
Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association chairman Joseph Law Kwan-din said that the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong only endorsed work contracts made through agencies, unlike the Philippines consulate which does not require agency involvement.
About 4,000 people, mostly foreign domestic helpers, staged a demonstration at the Indonesian consulate in Causeway Bay yesterday, urging it to let them sign contracts with employers without agency involvement.