The Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court where the case was heard. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The hardships encountered by domestic workers who break the law in Hong Kong have been highlighted by a news program which focussed on one maid’s plight after she fell foul of the law.

Every year about 200 domestic workers are arrested for illegally working, but in some cases, they are only following the instructions of their employer when breaking their contracts.

A story on ‘News Lancet,’ a news program featuring investigative reports produced by local broadcaster Cable TV, has revealed the hardships encountered by one domestic worker who was arrested for working illegally. The show highlighted her long wait before being put on trial in Hong Kong.

Cecilia Guevarra, a Filipina maid who had worked in Hong Kong for 15 years, was arrested in May last year for working illegally. She said she worked for a businesswoman eight years ago doing domestic duties at her employer’s residence.

One day she was asked to go to her employer’s office in Central on Hong Kong Island and was told to work as a cleaner in the office. Guevarra said she knew it was illegal, but wanted to keep her job, so she followed her employer’s instructions and worked in Central.

On May 8, 2017, officers from the Immigration Department raided the office and arrested her for working illegally. Her employer was also arrested on the same day.

Guevarra was remanded in custody after her arrest. During her time in custody, she learned her youngest son had been killed in a traffic accident in the Philippines. However, she was not allowed to leave Hong Kong until her trial was finished.

One month later she was released on bail and faced more difficulties – she had lost her job and had no money. A charity organization arranged some accommodation for her in a homeless shelter and gave her a small allowance. She said she only ate bread through the day and rarely had enough money to buy food for dinner.

Guevarra was only given a temporary identity document and when she fell ill, she could not afford to pay the medical fees at a private clinic or public hospital.

In early February, Guevarra and her former employer had to appear at the Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court, but their cases were presided over by different magistrates. Guevarra, who was represented by a duty lawyer, pleaded guilty. Her former employer, who was represented by a Senior Counsel, denied a charge of conspiracy to breach the conditions of stay.

The former employer was acquitted as the magistrate said that Guevarra, as a prosecution witness, gave contradictory testimony and the prosecutor could not prove that her former employer instructed her to work at the office.

Meanwhile Guevarra, who faced three offenses, was sentenced to three to six weeks in jail. However, the magistrate accepted that she was directed by other people to break the law and her sentence was suspended for two years.

After waiting nine long months for the case to end, Guevarra said: “I’m not angry but it seems, for me, it was just not fair.”

She said she would return to the Philippines because she missed her parents and son.

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