2013 Women's Day - Domestic workers are forced to keep silence on sexual violence HK Government Must Remove discriminatory policies on domestic workers Violence No More on Domestic Workers

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3 March 2013

Today is the Sunday before 8 March, the International Women’s Day. It is a day to promote equal rights for women. Domestic workers, being largely grass-root women, are largely rejected from the rights that we deserve. We continue to suffer from violence. We are forced to keep silence even when we face sexual abuse and exploitation.

Sexual abuse includes rape, sexual assault and harassment. In 2012, there are some news reports on court case hearings on rape cases. These are just a tip of iceberg. For most of the time, domestic workers just keep silence. From time to time, our members reflect they suffer from different types of sexual abuse and harassment yet they can’t do anything.

Besides serious rape cases, sexual assault and harassment is rampant. Some male employers just wear underwear in front of us. Some employers just suddenly come in when we are sleeping. Some employers just touch the private parts of our body. Some installing video camera inside the toilet or workers quarters and some employers pretend they accidentally embrace workers with malice.

Sexual harrassment is easy to happen among domestic workers.  Local domestic workers face the same situation as migrant workers, male employers don't behave themselves in front of domestic workers.  Sometimes employers watch pornography in front of the workers, this shows that some employers never respect their workers. Employers home is domestic workers place of work and for that domestic workers deserve respectful working environment without sexual violence.

Victims are punished if you report abuses
When we face these abuses, what we can do? If we report and file a case, it means we need to be punished! We will lose our jobs. Since many of us are in debt paying the agency fee, we lose our jobs, without income and in debt. We usually cannot find new employers within two weeks time which is the visa period we are allowed. Thus, while filing a case at police, we have only visa with ‘visitor’ status and cannot find new employment. The court case never takes short of time. It takes generally more than one year. In such long period of time, we have no money. We may stay in shelters provided by NGOs where there is very limited space. Hong Kong government never provides support for us. No shelters. No living means. We have nothing to do. We depend on our very little saving or borrowed money for food. Being a victim, if you seek for justice you are punished. And some police officer decline or reject complains from domestic workers who are victims of sexual abuse, the reason is insufficient evidence to prove the case.  Therefore, what we can do? We just keep silence.

Heavy agency fees bar us from reporting
We can hardly make decision to quit abusive employment especially because of heavy agency fee. According to our affiliate, Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU) in 2012 on 85% Indonesian workers are paying seven months for agency fees.  For Filipino migrant workers paying five to seven months salary.  This is generally the main obstacle for us to seek for justice from abuses.

More abuses with mandatory live-in requirement
We are women living in employers’ homes. Hong Kong government has made it mandatory for migrant domestic workers to reside with employers WITHOUT stipulating legislations to ensure decent and safe living conditions and WITHOUT active monitoring mechanism. There are no rules in employment ordinance stipulating decent and safe living conditions for workers who reside in working place. There are no labour inspectors to check with the employers if they are providing proper living conditions to migrant domestic workers and if the employers are providing accommodation according to what they stated in the standard contract. Many migrant domestic workers also won’t be able to know what the contract says as they cannot understand English and they are not given with copies of contract.

International Labour Standards stipulates decent living conditions for domestic workers and no agency fee collected from workers
According to International Labour Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 on decent work for domestic workers, no agency fees should be collected from workers’ remuneration. Governments should take measures to ensure domestic worker from all forms of abuse, harassment and violence. Governments should take measures to ensure domestic workers to enjoy decent living conditions. If they are residing in employers’ households, they should be ensured with decent living conditions that respect their privacy. It is recommended that they should be provided with “a separate, private room that is suitably furnished, adequately ventilated and equipped with a lock, the key to which should be provided to the domestic worker;” In Hong Kong, domestic workers’ conditions are still far from International Labour Standard.

Our demand
The human kind and Hong Kong society should not tolerate sexual violence. Yet, if Hong Kong government continues to allow discriminatory policies that bar domestic workers from report and seek for justice against sexual violence, it is just a show that Hong Kong allows sexual violence to continue. On the eve of International Women’s Day, we demand Hong Kong government to:

1)    Stop abusive practices and discriminatory policies that bar domestic workers from reporting abuses:
     a)    Stop excessive agency fees
     b)    Abolish mandatory live-in policy on migrant domestic worker
2)    Allow direct hiring for all migrant domestic workers.
3)    Conduct inspection on migrant domestic workers’ working/living conditions
4)    Establish one-stop service and provide shelter for victims
5)    Abolish New Condition of Stay
6)    Hong Kong Government to give more information and educate employers on laws and policies on hiring migrant domestic workers and to respect domestic workers rights.
7)    Hong Kong Police officers to respect domestic workers right

Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU)

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