Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong public helps Bethune House secure enough funding to keep two refuges for distressed helpers open until end of year

  • Charity’s overseas funding dried up after churches changed focus
  • Group turned to public to help raise the HK$1 million needed for upkeep of shelters
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 11:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 12:59pm

A shelter for the city’s distressed foreign domestic workers has raised enough money to keep operating until the end of the year, according to the charity’s executive director.

There were fears Bethune House would be forced to close earlier this year, having relied mainly on donations for the upkeep of its two shelters on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which last year served about 700 foreign domestic workers. It rents the two shelters for a total of HK$27,000 (US$3,461) a month.

Its overseas funding dried up after the churches involved focused on less developed territories.

Bethune, which was set up in 1986, turned to the public for help through crowdfunding and collection boxes to raise the HK$1 million it needed to keep going.

“We were living by the month but because of the support of the local community, churches and individual donors, local media, the Post, now we can breathe easily,” executive director Edwina Antonio-Santoyo said, adding that although the shelter was “OK up to December, we are continuing with our fundraising for institutional support”.

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The group was hoping two major donors could step up to cover its expenses for next year.

Antonio-Santoyo said their experience this year had taught them to find more regular donors to ensure the sustainability of the shelters.

“We need to develop regular monthly donors so we know how much will be committed so you know how much more to raise,” Antonio-Santoyo said.

One of those who had sought shelter at Bethune, Surati, a 29-year-old Indonesian domestic helper, said the charity helped for the one year she had been jobless after she reported her employer to police for assaulting her in September 2017.

Surati had been employed for four years and nine months but in all that time, she said she was not paid her salary in full and had not been given days off.

Surati is seeking HK$180,000 from the employer in the Labour Tribunal for unpaid wages.

She said her employer would pay her salary by cheque. Surati would go to the bank to cash it.

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But as soon as she went home, her boss would give her a list of deductibles.

“If I ate more, or showered with warm water, she would deduct HK$200 or HK$300 [each time]. There were so many deductions in a month. I was only left with HK$50 to put on my Octopus card,” she said.

On September 15, 2017, Surati said her boss punched her. She sought help from a neighbour’s Indonesian helper “who saw my eyes were black and blue and my leg was bruised”.

Her friend told her to make a report to police.

The employer was convicted of assault and jailed for three months in June this year.

Surati was allowed to find another employer and she started work there this week.

She also was able to enjoy a holiday in Indonesia to be with her husband and son, after six years of not being able to go back home.

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She hopes to win her Labour Tribunal case, which has been delayed because her employer has appealed against her assault conviction.

“I am hoping to win the labour case and I can buy a house in Indonesia with the money,” Surati said. “I hope my new employer is good.”