Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times
Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Indonesian domestic workers who have been abused during their employment in Hong Kong have pledged to support compatriots seeking to protect their rights.

Nanie, 34, who was hired by a male employer 10 years ago, said he failed to keep up with her wages and often did not reimburse her when she bought food, news website reported. Nanie said she sometimes needed to buy food for the girl under her care using her own money.

Nanie eventually left that family and filed complaints to the Small Claims Tribunal, and finally received her owed back pay.

Muna, 25, said she had been physically abused by her female employer. The woman scratched her neck, poked her arm or forced her to touch a heated frying pan. The Indonesian said she only had four hours of rest during her day off and was not allowed out.

Her monthly salary was usually reduced by a few hundred Hong Kong dollars as “compensation” because she was told she had made mistakes.

Muna’s employer later accused her of theft, and at the same time, Muna sued the employer for alleged abused and unpaid wages. The cases are still under investigation.

The abuses claimed by Nanie and Muna could be only the tip of an iceberg. In fact, 145 cases of serious abuses of domestic workers were recorded in 2015 and 2016, in which 48 the employers were the abusers, figures from the Security Bureau showed.

The Labor Department recorded 733 salary claims filed by domestic workers from 2014 to 2016; 70% of the claims were settled through mediation.

Another problem faced by abused maids is that if they leave their abusive employer, they have to stay in Hong Kong to wait for a police investigation or court hearing. During the stay, they are unemployed.

Without any financial support, many abused maids seek assistance from the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, a temporary shelter for needy domestic workers.

Nanie and Muna said they only learned of their rights while staying in Bethune House. They were now sharing their experiences, telling other maids facing difficulties what to do and how.

Nanie is now the vice-chairwoman of Asosiasi Buruh Migran Indonesia di Hong Kong (ATKI), an association initiated by domestic workers who had stayed in Bethune House.

The association goes to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay during holidays to promote domestic workers’ rights.

They hope all domestic workers in Hong Kong will better understand their rights and protect themselves, so none of them suffer any more abuse.

The Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, established in 1986, is a registered charitable institution providing assistance and social counseling to needy migrant workers and their families.

However, the organization has been under financial hardship and organized a crowd-funding initiative early this year.