Domestic workers gather in Central, Hong Kong, on a Sunday. Photo: Asia Times
Domestic workers gather on their rest day in Central, Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

In a landmark decision, the Hong Kong Labour Tribunal on Tuesday decided for the first time to allow a former domestic worker to testify via video link from the Philippines.

Timon Shum, Labour Tribunal Presiding Officer, is to allow a union officer to represent a claimant in court while the claimant gives testimony via video link from the Philippines. Former Filipina domestic worker Joenalyn D. Mallorca is suing her former employer Ng Mei Shuen for a total of around HK$86,000 (US$10,957) in damages, according to a release from Justice Without Borders.

Until now, workers allegedly victimized by employers in alleged cases of unfair dismissal, nonpayment of wages and illegal deductions, had to remain in Hong Kong as they had to be present, in person, at the tribunal court.

The processing of claims can drag on for months, forcing workers who remained in Hong Kong, unable to take on work while they awaited their day in court to live in shelters operated churches or support groups.

Many workers had to make the difficult decision whether to miss out on earning income while pursuing claims or returning home and giving up their rights altogether, said Mr. Douglas MacLean, Executive Director of Justice Without Borders.

The group said the landmark decision gives workers “real hope that they can pursue justice for common employment violations, even after they leave the city.”

Claimants can now get on with their lives without giving up their rights to justice. It also means employers cannot escape their responsibilities by dragging their feet until their former employees go home, the group said.

The hearing for Mallorca will be held at the Technology Court in West Kowloon from September 16 to 19.

Shiella Grace Estrada, Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions secretary, had been allowed to represent the claimant in court.

Mallorca filed a case at the Labour Tribunal against her employer after she was dismissed in September 2017, reported.

However, she had to go back to the Philippines in December 2017 to take care of her young children and her elderly mother who was diagnosed with cancer.

The Labour Department had offered to shoulder her expenses for her to come back to Hong Kong and testify but, besides taking care of her children and sick mother, she cannot afford to be absent for a long time from her factory job in Laguna.

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