Friday, 17 January 2014

Cruel Intentions

Indonesian domestic helpers protesting against violent mistreatment
This week we read about the shocking plight of Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong. One is now recovering in hospital back in Indonesia after suffering injuries to her legs as well as cuts and burns all over her body she claims were inflicted by her employer.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is 23 years old and she came to Hong Kong last May to work for her employer in Tseung Kwan O. When she returned to Indonesia on January 10, a friend had to help her walk through the airport because she was in so much pain, according to the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers' Hong Kong branch.

It also said her employer gave her HK$100 and told her not to speak to any Indonesians before she boarded the plane.

Indonesian consulate staff tried to contact her employer but he refused to open the door; only when police arrived did he comply, but even then gave very few details.

And now a second Indonesian woman has come out to say she was also suffered similar injuries to Erwiana back in 2010. Yesterday 28-year-old Bunga said she suffered 10 months of beatings and even death threats.

"One time the employer got so angry she dragged me onto the balcony and threatened to throw me off it. She made me beg for my life," Bunga said. "I told her that she could beat me as much as she wanted, but I went on my knees and begged her not to kill me because I had a son."

She also said she was not allowed out of the Tsueng Kwan O flat and was locked inside when the family went out.

Bunga also told of how her employer threatened to pay the Indonesian police to kill her family back home if she told anyone about the mistreatment.

What is going on here? Isn't Hong Kong supposed to be a civilized society?

We are seeing more cases of maids being violently mistreated by the employers. Why is this happening? Are these employers sick people who take pleasure in inflicting pain on others?

Worst of all there are no proper checks and balances when women from the Philippines, Indonesia and now Bangladesh come to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers.

First there are some unscrupulous employment agencies that demand extremely high service fees particularly from Indonesian maids who think they can make back the money working in Hong Kong.

However, they end up being indentured slaves because to pay for the employment fees, the agencies lend the women money with high interest and so they can hardly ever pay back the entire amount.

Also not all these agencies are looking out for the maids' best interests and aren't there when they need help. In Indonesian cases, sometimes the consulate isn't available either.

Some employers may not have the patience to deal with Indonesian domestic helpers because of their lack of English skills and the need to completely train them to do housekeeping and cooking.

And then the Hong Kong government seems to turn a blind eye to the conflicts between domestic helpers and their employers. To avoid having too many maids without jobs hanging around the city, the domestic helpers have only two weeks to find another job otherwise they have to leave.

It seems like the government doesn't want to interfere in what goes on in people's homes, but surely it should be aware of how its residents are treating foreign workers -- as they would other human beings.

There are stories of maids living in very cramped quarters -- because the government has not legislated the requirements of the space -- some even sleeping on kitchen and bathroom floors.

How many more incidents of badly beaten domestic helpers does it take before the government steps in and lays down the rules?

We should add there are many families who treat their domestic helpers very well, not quite to the extent of a family member, but some are paid more than the mandated salary, or given extra pay for working overtime.

This latest incident has made Hong Kong look like a place filled with evil employers so why would anyone want to come here to work as a domestic helper?


  1. "This latest incident has made Hong Kong look like a place filled with evil employers so why would anyone want to come here to work as a domestic helper?"

    Because the women stand to potentially make much more in Hong Kong than in their home countries -- and also because in other countries, they are likely to be treated much worse. Sad but true, that's how the thinking goes.

    But yes, these cases of employee mistreatment are definitely making Hong Kongers as a whole looking "uncivilized" to much of the rest of the world.

    And for all of Hong Kong's boasts of being "Asia's World City", etc., there sadly are sides of/to Hong Kong that really could and should be better, including in terms of treating fellow humans more humanely.

    1. Hi YTSL -- It's scary you point out there are worse places out there, but now that I think about it you're right.

      Most people outside of Hong Kong would never think of its people treating others inhumanely but this story has definitely dented the city's reputation...