Around 30 women from the Philippines and Indonesia are staying at Bethune House, a shelter for distressed domestic workers in Hong Kong, and they are all looking forward to the end of their battles with their employers.
Although they didn’t know one another before, they know how the others in the shelter feel, as they have gone through similar dark days with their employers, news website HK01.com reported in a feature story on its website.
There are various reasons they decided to leave their workplace. Some of them ran away because of abuse, others because of salaries being withheld or contracts being terminated. But they have the same goal – waiting for a fair trial to get back what they lost because of unfair treatment.
However, the waiting time for a court trial or a meeting with Labor Department officers can drag of for months. And while they are waiting, they cannot work, so they don’t have any income.
Bethune House provides them with free accommodation and food. In return, the women help clean the center or do some arts and crafts for other charity organizations to get some funding for the center’s operation.
Surati, a 27-year-old Indonesia domestic worker who has been staying at the shelter since she ran away from an abusive employer, said people come and go but what binds them together is the sharing, be it their worries or simply a dish from a home town.
According to a survey by the Justice Center of 1,003 domestic workers in Hong Kong, 171 of them were classified as forced labor. They suffered physical or verbal abuse, withheld salaries, no statutory holidays and overwork.
The survey found that workers who bear heavy debts or agent fees that can eat up 35% of their monthly income could easily fall into the forced-labor category because they do not have any bargaining power and don’t know local law.
That’s why Bethune House teaches domestic workers labor law, and when a case does go to trial, the workers accompany one another to court to show their support.
Surati said that if she gets a second chance to work in Hong Kong, she will now have better knowledge of how to protect herself.
Bethune House is funded through donations from local churches, migrant organizations, service institutions, and concerned individuals in Hong Kong and overseas. It receives no government subsidies.