Help for Domestic Helpers - Legal Aid Office Visit
In this blog post I would like to introduce you to a topic that is very unique to Hong Kong and that is connected to one of my Quan Cais: Foreign domestic helpers.
Did you know that there are about 300,00 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kog. Most of them come from South-Asia and are forced to leave their families behind in order to earn a living abroad and support their dependants at home, due to limited job opportunities. Tthey are employed by Hongkongers, typically families, usually living in their employer's residence and performing various household duties such as cooking, serving, cleaning, dish-washing, and childcare. The majority of them are women and come from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
The domestic helpers have the following rights and obligations, they are
- required to only perform the domestic duties outlined in the employment contract.
- not allowed or required to take up any other employment with any other employer during the effective period of the contract
- required to work and live in the employer's place of residence, and to be provided with suitable living accommodation with reasonable privacy;
- entitled to one "rest day" every week, with the rest day being a continuous period of not less than 24 hours (which is why on Sunday all public parks and malls are full of Indonesian women :)
Unfortunately many foreign domestic helpers are mistreated by their employers and have experienced violations of their contract, including being paid under the minimum allowable wage amount and not being allowed their mandatory weekly day of rest. After quitting employment, they only have two weeks to find new employment (which in most cases is not enough time). Therefore the possibility of deportation back home prevents many foreign domestic helpers from reporting violations of their rights, instances of discrimination against them and even physical and sexual abuse.
Here are a few examples: (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/18/us-hongkong-maid-idUSBRE98H0B720130918)
And that is where my Quan Cai comes in: “Helpers for Domestic Helpers (HDH)”. HDH are a nonprofit organization that provides free paralegal advice, counseling, and guidance for foreign domestic workers. It is a part of the community outreach program of St. John’s Cathedral. HDH helps foreign domestic workers understand their rights and encourages them to utilize all available legal avenues to enforce those rights. As students we contribute by providing language translation (Cantonese/Filipino/Indonesian), assisting domestic helpers in court hearings, raising awareness in the Hong Kong community about the treatments of domestic helpers in HK, Hong Kong Law, and domestic helpers rights, and providing help by either writing to or calling the employer/agency and explaining their rights bind by the law. Additionally we are giving English and dance classes to make their days a little bit brighter. It was our first day in the Legal Aid Office of Christian Action. We all boarded our LPC bus and then headed straight to the office, where we were greeted by the staff and had received an introduction to the work we will be doing over the next years. We learned about the Christian Acton shelter that offers domestic helpers a place to stay in and discussed activities they would not only enjoy, but that would also help them in the future.
After coming back to campus, I had tutor dinner at Hayley’s flat. She had prepared a wonderful dinner for us, with crispy potato wedges, spicy chicken wings, a yummy salad and rice. Hayley pampered us with fruit salad a delicious jewish cake called “babka”, made from yeast dough with cinnamon and topped with streusel. We shared our thoughts about our experience at LPC so far and talked about our names and their meanings - every name has a beautiful story behind it (I will write more about that very soon ;)) pending time with my tutor group is always wonderful, it feels like family.