Injured Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih has sought help from a Hong Kong-based domestic helpers' rights group to file a compensation claim against her former employer.
The Mission for Migrant Workers said yesterday it contacted the Legal Aid Department last week and was gathering relevant documents from Erwiana, such as the contract with her former employer and her work visa.
"Our first priority is to get justice," mission general manager Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez said, adding that they had yet to discuss the amount of compensation to be sought.
She said the group would start procedures for the civil suit as soon as it received all necessary materials from the 23-year-old maid, who remains in hospital in Indonesia. The group also had a lawyer working on the case, she said.
Although there have been suggestions that Erwiana might also sue the Hong Kong government, which by law has a duty to protect people from torture and cruel treatment, Abdon-Tellez said this was not the issue at the moment.
"[Erwiana] needs immediate relief for her personal condition now," she said.
The Immigration Department meanwhile defended the officer who allowed the helper to leave Hong Kong, despite her signs of injury, without alerting any officers at the immigration clearing counters.
Director of Immigration Chan Kwok-ki said yesterday that the officer failed to "make the association" during the short time of contact with Erwiana.
"According to [the officer's] memory, he said he could only see some darker skin on Erwiana's face and she didn't ask for any assistance. Our officer just thought that she might have some skin disease," Chan said. "He never thought she had been subject to [alleged] torture … the officer should not be blamed for failing to make that association."
Commissioner for Labour Warner Cheuk Wing-hing said after a Legislative Council meeting yesterday that officers from the department had visited Erwiana in hospital. He said they intended to offer help and provide her with forms for the compensation claim, but she told them that she had asked the mission for help.
"Now that she's had help from the group, I think we won't repeat their work," Cheuk said.
If Erwiana did launch a lawsuit, Cheuk said the department would first try to mediate between the parties to seek a settlement. He said this would be in line with normal procedures in dealing with such cases. If that failed, he said, the case would be handed over to the Minor Employment Claims Adjudication Board or the Labour Tribunal.
Cheuk also said the department was contacting Erwiana's agency for further investigation, and would only decide its next move concerning the agency after it had obtained more material. He said the department would act according to the law and would not "give a conviction before a trial".
Abdon-Tellez said Erwiana's condition was improving, but she needed to stay in hospital for longer due to damage to her mouth, hearing and eyesight.
"We are hoping [we can win the case]," she said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."
Erwiana's former employer, 44-year-old Law Wan-tung, was arrested on Monday last week and charged with seven counts relating to the alleged abuse of Erwiana and two other helpers.