Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

New wave of Cambodian domestic helpers ‘know risks’ that come with working in Hong Kong

High-profile cases of helper abuse, such as that of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, have damaged Hong Kong’s reputation but the new recruits ‘have been adequately briefed’, says woman helping to integrate them

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 December, 2017, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 2:22pm

As the largest batch of Cambodian domestic helpers arrived in Hong Kong, they were “aware of the risks” that come with working in the city, said the woman playing a key role in integrating them.

Elain Fung Siu-ling, consultant to the Hong Kong Cambodian Human Resources Association, was asked whether the new recruits had been adequately briefed about issues such as exploitation, physical abuse and trafficking after a spate of high-profile scandals in the city over the treatment of domestic workers.

“They are really smart to understand Hong Kong law and [how it can protect them],” Fung said. “It is good for them to know about this, so they can spread the news to Cambodia and more [helpers] will feel confident about coming to Hong Kong.”

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The helpers were lured to Hong Kong by salaries of HK$4,410 a month (US$560) – high compared with US$100 monthly salaries at home. Cambodia is one of Asia’s poorest nations.

But while Hong Kong is already home to more than 360,000 foreign helpers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, high-profile cases of abuse, trafficking and forced labour have damaged the city’s reputation.

Last week, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih – a former helper from Indonesia who endured torture and abuse at the hands of her employer – won a civil claim of HK$890,430 to cover her medical expenses after she was unable to work again due to the injuries she sustained. Her employer, Law Wan-tung, was jailed for six years in 2015 for beating and starving Erwiana.

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The Hong Kong government, which predicts it will need 600,000 domestic helpers by 2047 to meet the needs of the city’s ageing population, relaxed visa requirements for Cambodia to boost the city’s workforce. A previous attempt to source labour from new countries backfired with Myanmar in 2014, with many helpers returning to their home country within months. The government later banned its women from working in Hong Kong over abuse concerns.

Acknowledging these issues, Fung said: “We have taken every step to deploy the helpers to Hong Kong in a very careful way. Hopefully it won’t [cause a repeat of] the Myanmar issue.”

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New helpers were given a mobile phone and SIM card on arrival, meaning they will have access to a helpline, run by the association and staffed with translators, who will be able to advise on any issues that may arise.

To prepare the new recruits, they were given three months of training on a range of basic housework tasks, including taking care of children, cooking and ironing.

A 2016 report by the rights group Justice Centre found that one in six foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong had been subjected to “forced labour”.

The Wednesday batch of helpers numbered 20 workers, according to the Cambodian Human Resources Association of Hong Kong.

The city hoped to attract 1,000 more Cambodian domestic workers by the end of next year, the association said.