A Hong Kong mother of two who abused her maids has been jailed for six years in a case which highlighted the widespread abuse of migrant workers across Asia.
Law Wan-tung, 44, was found guilty of 18 of 20 abuse charges including inflicting grievous bodily harm and criminal intimidation against Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and another maid also from Indonesia.
Her mistreatment sparked outrage when photographs of Erwiana were posted online and she was forced to receive hospital treatment in Indonesia.
SCMP News (@SCMP_News) February 10, 2015
Around 30 protesters gathered outside the courtroom for the sentencing calling for #JusticeforErwiana. Among them was Vicky Casia has been working as a domestic worker for over 20 years.
“Bottom line is, abuse happens, even with Erwiana winning her case, the abuse continues because the policies are still in place,” she said.
Many were disappointed with the outcome.
FDWs await sentence for Erwiana's employer. Photo by Dolores of AMCB. pic.twitter.com/702j4Akc9h— Aaron H. Ceradoy (@aaronhk77) February 27, 2015
According to Amnesty International, Hong Kong has more than 300,000 domestic workers. Enticed by the promise of well-paid jobs, often their passports are confiscated, wages aren’t paid and they suffer physical and sexual violence. Their report released last year China: Exploited for profit, failed by governments, details a catalogue of human and labour rights violations.
Campaigners hope the case will force the government to change its policies on migrant workers. The Hong Kong Helpers Campaign has listed three major points for improvement.
i) An end to the 2-week rule.
If a foreign domestic worker is fired or quits their job, they have only two weeks to find a new contract under Hong Kong’s immigration law. They are also forced to live with their employers. These rules effectively ‘trap’ workers into contracts with abusive employers.
ii) Maximum working hours
An average working day can be up to 17 hours but many were ‘on-call’ 24 hours a day, according to Amesty’s report. There are currently no legal guidelines for maximum working hours in Hong Kong. The country has not signed up to the International Labour Organisation’s standards for domestic workers which includes rights such as rest time.
iii) Illegal agency fees
According to Hong Kong Helpers Campaign (HKHC), recruitment agencies collude to create a system of indentured servitude. Amnesty’s report also found the agencies involved in supporting forced labour.
Indonesians are often forced to pay huge pre-training and placement fees, making them indebted to an agency. HKHC found that the contradictory policies between home and placement countries create legal loopholes open to abuse.
Though the guilty verdict in Ms Erwiana’s case is a small victory, campaigners hope to keep the pressure on the government to improve working conditions for all migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong.