Reform regulation of domestic helpers in Hong Kong to protect them from abuse, rights group urges
by Jeffie Lam firstname.lastname@example.org
Labor rights advocates and a group of pan-democrats have joined forces to call on the government to review policies on domestic helpers after the employer of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was jailed for six years on Friday.
Current regulations governing domestic helpers -- which make it mandatory for them to live with their employers -- have made them vulnerable to exploitation, representatives from the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said after meeting six pan-democratic lawmakers yesterday.
"New regulations must be adopted if [the government] wants to avoid another Erwiana,' said AMCB spokeswoman Eni Lestari.
Erwiana, who leaves Hong Kong today, said: "I hope the Hong Kong government can soon recognize we are workers in Hong Kong and we are not slaves."
The calls came just days after Law Wan-tung was sentenced for abusing Erwiana and another Indonesian maid, Tutik Lestari Ningsih. Judge Amanda Woodcock urged the government to scrap the live-in rule to protect domestic helpers from abuse.
Eni Lestari said only 2 or 3 per cent of maids had decided to live independently when they still had the option in 2003 and that the government should not exaggerate the impact of allowing them to do so.
The W-prefix on the identity cards of domestic helpers should also be removed, she added, because it promotes discrimination - from making them pay their phone bills at specific counters to banning them from swimming pools in some residential complexes.
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing raised concerns about the two-week rule - which requires helpers leave Hong Kong if they fail to secure a new contract within 14 days - as it may discourage vulnerable helpers from speaking up.
Labour Party stalwart Lee Cheuk-yan said Erwiana's case had given the world the impression that Hong Kong was "a city of modern slavery".
"It shows that our system has failed to protect the migrant workers properly," he said, adding a review, led by Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, could be the starting point for reform.
Eman Villanueva of AMCB said the group would file a list of the hundreds of complaints it had received with the Legislative Council's public complaints office. Legco rules would then allow lawmakers to review cases and amend laws as necessary.
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