The governments of Indonesia and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must launch a fair investigation into the alleged torture of 23-year-old Indonesian migrant worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih by her employer in Hong Kong, activists and workers say.
According to local media reports, Erwiana — who is now undergoing medical treatment at a local hospital in her hometown of Sragen, Central Java — might have been abused for around eight months after arriving in Hong Kong in May last year to work for a local family, during which she was also banned from speaking to others.
“What happened to Erwiana is not a crime but modern slavery. Shame on the government to have failed to prevent such an incident from occurring,” Anis Hidayah, the executive director of Migrant Care, an NGO focusing on workers’ rights, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Anis said such an incident could have been anticipated had there been better access to information for migrant workers in Hong Kong, a condition that was unlikely in places such as Saudi Arabia.
“Such an incident should hardly take place in a place with better law enforcement such as Hong Kong. I believe the agency that sent Erwiana to the job is also responsible for the slavery imposed on her,” Anis said. “We can no longer ignore abuses against our workers. It’s time for the government to take concrete action to act against abusive employers as well as the agencies that assist employment,” she added.
Local media reports said Erwiana’s beatings began when, undernourished, she stole cookies from her employers.
She was reportedly tortured five times a day, given minimum supplies, no days off and was unpaid.
The prolonged abuse led Erwiana to try to flee from her employer the week after her first month of employment, but instead of assisting her, the agency took her back to the employer.
With help from fellow workers and local activists, Erwiana returned to Indonesia last week.
The injustice imposed on Erwiana has encouraged domestic workers in Hong Kong to speak up about the ongoing unfair treatment of domestic workers in the country.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported domestic workers staged a rally on the streets of Hong Kong on Thursday, demanding justice for Erwiana as well as better protection for hundreds of thousands of foreign maids in the country.
Dozens of protesters comprising maids, rights activists and migrant groups rallied outside the office of the maid’s employment agency before marching to the Indonesian consulate.
“We’re very angry. So many cases have happened to Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong,” Sring Atin, vice chairman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, told reporters as quoted by AFP.
The National Labor Placement and Protection Agency (BNP2TKI) said on its official website that the agency would file a lawsuit against Erwiana’s employer.
BNP2TKI advocacy and workers’ protection division head Teguh Hendro Cahyono said “the government would not need a permit from her [Erwiana’s] family for the lawsuit”.
The Hong Kong police said they had launched a investigation on Tuesday after migrant worker groups slammed the authorities for not pursuing the case