Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Campaign to push for changes to maid working conditions after Erwiana's case

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:42am

Social activists have launched a campaign to fight for sweeping changes to the treatment of foreign domestic helpers amid anger over torture alleged to have been inflicted on an Indonesian maid by her employer.

The Hong Kong Helpers Campaign is pushing for an overhaul of laws that relate specifically to the more than 300,000 imported maids, which they say do little to protect the helpers' rights.

The launch came as the female employer alleged to have inflicted severe injuries on helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 23, was arrested at the airport.

"The case of abuse towards Erwiana highlights a need for a campaign," group spokeswoman Meredith McBride said. "It highlights the fact that everyone needs to act to get the government on board."

Watch: Hong Kong maids march for better protection

The campaigners want to change three key arrangements.

One is the "two-week" rule whereby maids have only a fortnight to find a new employer after a contract or face deportation.

Another is the rule that requires the helpers to live with their employers, which activists say leaves them open to abuse and manipulation.

The group also wants maximum working hours to be set for maids. In a survey, human rights group Amnesty International found that Indonesian maids worked up to 102 hours in a six-day week.

“If employers are able to abuse their helpers for months and years on end without ramifications, the laws and policies that allow for this abuse must be changed,” McBride wrote in a recent op-ed for the South China Morning Post.

Another call is for an end to illegal agency fees that force domestic helpers into debt.

In September last year, Catherine Au Yuk-shan was sentenced to 5-1/2 years' jail and her husband, Tai Chi-wai, to three years and three months' jail for abusing Indonesian Kartika Puspitasari. The court heard the helper was attacked with a bicycle chain, fists, hot irons, a paper cutter, a hanger and a shoe.