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Operation Santa Claus

Bethune House refuge hopes to expand legal support services for distressed domestic helpers seeking justice in Hong Kong

  • Charity helped with more than 600 legal cases involving migrant employees last year
  • Huge demand for service, executive director says
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 10:15am

Going through a trial can be stressful, and the experience is likely to be more intense if the proceedings take place in a foreign court.

That explains why a charity deems it necessary to provide legal support services for the non-native domestic workers seeking justice in Hong Kong.

The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, which has sheltered many needy domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia over the past 30 years, plans to expand a scheme to offer practical assistance to its ethnic minority residents involved in litigation.

Executive director Edwina Antonio-Santoyo said it was important to give guidance to the distressed women who were unfamiliar with the city’s justice system.

“Knowing the law will give you confidence. If you don’t know the procedure, you will lose the case,” she explained.

Last year the group helped with more than 600 legal cases involving migrant employees.

Antonio-Santoyo said the charity counted 96 actions brought during the period as “police cases”, which included offences of assault and child abuse, as opposed to 326 cases in the “labour” category.

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According to the organisation, around 70 per cent of its residents won their cases and recovered a total of HK$1.1 million (US$141,100).

Antonio-Santoyo said most of the migrant workers had gone to court just to defend their rights, citing cases of labour disputes and alleged unfair dismissals.

She said she believed there was a huge demand for the charity’s legal support services.

Through a programme centred on the theme “sustaining the body, strengthening the mind,” the organisation will support 600 helpers facing litigation with funds from Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity fundraiser organised by the South China Morning Post and government broadcaster RTHK.

We believe there will be harmony in the community if the relationship between domestic workers and their employers is good
Edwina Antonio-Santoyo, executive director of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge

The project includes educational sessions on Hong Kong law and the rights the women have. Their team will also provide case support and assistance, helping the distressed individuals navigate legal procedures in Hong Kong.

“If they are not keen on pursuing their cases, we respect them. We don’t force them to go to court,” Antonio-Santoyo said.

“We explain to them their options. It has to be their own decision [to pursue a case].”

She said domestic helpers were an integral part of the Hong Kong community, noting their roles in doing household chores for many families and caring for children and the elderly.

“We believe there will be harmony in the community if the relationship between domestic workers and their employers is good.”