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The story of Lisa, a domestic helper in Hong Kong

Posted on: October 24, 2012 4:20 PM
Related Categories: armn

Lisa is a 28 year old Indonesian Domestic Worker in Hong Kong. Since they are poor and her parents are hard up in raising their family, she had been forced to work at a very young age. She has two other siblings, the younger one she had to support to attend school.

At the tender age of 16, she already started to work in a number of countries outside Indonesia, exposing her to various risks.  She first worked for three months in Singapore but had to terminate her contract even when her employers were good to her because she was nearly raped by a co-employee. She next took a job in Saudi Arabia where she worked for more than 3 years. But since it was difficult for her to go home every time there were family emergencies, she decided to look for work in a country nearer home. This was the time she made the decision to work in Hong Kong where she has worked for more than five years now.

In Hong Kong, she has worked for three employers.

Her last employer has hired her twice. The first contract lasted for only five months. It was terminated for a ridiculous reason of not being able to comb her female employer’s hair every morning.  She found another employer and after that employment, the former employer who hired her for only five months rehired her. This time, it lasted for 18 months. The reason for termination was that the employer simply did not like her.

Lisa felt that she had been unjustly dismissed from work by her employer twice. She knew she worked hard for her employer’s family waking up at 6:00am to start her daily tasks and sleeping only after work is done at 1:00 am the following day. She had less than five hours of rest/sleep per day. She cleaned the entire house, washed and ironed their clothes, went to market and cooked their food and on top of these, she also was required to wash all their three cars three times a week. There were times when she was already about to sleep when the male employer would demand to have a massage even at 1 am.  Even if these tasks were not part of the contract she signed, she still followed everything else her employer demanded her to do within the household because she wanted to keep her job. Furthermore, she also seldom had her days off and statutory holidays.  Thus, she had a hard time accepting her employer’s reason that her contract was terminated simply because employer “didn’t like her”.

Furthermore, upon termination, she was only paid her usual wage but not the other benefits due her such as annual leave, unused rest days and statutory holidays which she learned she was entitled to in her sessions with a case officer.  It was a good thing that Lisa kept a diary where she had noted down all the holidays she was told to work and therefore did not enjoy. She also demanded the employer to pay her HK$ 775/month food allowance since she was not given a complete three square meals a day for the 18 months she has worked for them. Her total labor claims amounted to $HK29,000.00.  At the Labor Relations Division (LRD), the employer only offered to pay $HK6,000.00 but Lisa didn’t agree to take this because she eventually knew what was rightfully due her. She explained why she was claiming each and every item. The case then had to be elevated to the Labor Tribunal.

After a few days, Lisa was jubilant upon receiving a call from the LT officer that the employer finally agreed to pay all her labor claims amounting to more than HK$27,000.00. She accepted the offer noting the small difference. Her efforts have paid off. She realized how useful it is for domestic workers like her to keep a daily journal to track all important transactions and experiences.  She thought that this helped her a lot in recalling and claiming for unpaid and unused holidays where her employer made her work.

She was also very happy for the case assistance and the shelter provided her. While waiting for the resolution of her case, she helped assist other clients who were in a similar situation.  She accompanied them to the Consulate for claiming back passports and employment contracts being held by employers or agencies, or collect personal belongings in the residences of former employers as well as in filing claims at the Labor Department. She said she learned a lot while assisting others with their cases at the same time it helped her gain more confidence.  She also joined other migrants in various activities to learn more about their rights and to advance issues of Foreign Domestic Workers that she continuously does to this writing.

Though Lisa’s labor case has been resolved, she said that the fight isn’t over yet. “Until other migrant workers are treated similarly the way I was, we must continue to work in upgrading our situation,” she declared.

– Story Courtesy of Mission for Migrant Workers