Indonesian Maids in Hong Kong Often Victims of Rights Violations

HONG KONG–Indonesian domestic helpers working as maids in Hong Kong are often victims of rights violations that include physical and verbal abuse, as well as restrictions on their freedom of movement, by their employers and recruitment agencies, according to a report by London-based Amnesty International.

In the report, released Thursday, the human rights group also criticized the governments of Indonesia and Hong Kong for not adequately monitoring recruitment and placement agencies, which it claims exploit the mostly female migrant domestic workers, by using deception and coercion to recruit them to work in situations that violate their human and labor rights.

“The principal mechanisms of coercion which are applied in both Indonesia and Hong Kong are the confiscation of identity documents, restrictions on freedom of movement and the manipulation of debt incurred through recruitment fees,” Amnesty International said in its report, which was based on 97 in-depth interviews with migrant workers and a survey of 930 women by the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union.

The report, which looks at the experiences of domestic workers from their recruitment in Indonesia to taking up employment with families in Hong Kong, comes as the number of Indonesian domestic helpers in the city continues to increase, reaching 149,098 in September to account for nearly half of the city’s 319,325-strong domestic helper workforce. Other helpers hail mainly from the Philippines.

Prospective maids in Indonesia are required to go through government-licensed recruitment agencies. These agencies and brokers often deceive migrant workers during the recruitment process, says Amnesty International.

“Prospective migrants are promised good jobs with lucrative salaries, but are not properly informed about the large fees they will incur during the recruitment process or the lengthy mandatory pre-departure training they will have to undertake”, the report said.

These agencies also confiscate identity documents and other property as collateral, and charge fees far in excess of those permitted by law, the report noted, adding full fees are imposed from the outset of training. While Indonesian law limits such fees to around US$1,730, the majority of helpers say they have to pay about US$ 2,709 over a seven-month period after working in Hong Kong, notes the report.

The report also documents human rights abuses that migrant domestic workers face, such as a lack of food, underpaid work, as well as physical and sexual violence.

Hong Kong’s Labor Department said the administration is committed to protecting the rights of foreign domestic helpers, which account for around 8% of the city’s total workforce. The Department would prosecute the employment agency and revoke its license if overcharging foreign domestic helpers found, the spokesman said.

In the first seven months this year, Labor Department received 110 complaints against employment agencies,  up from 77 in 2012 and 73 in 2011. Most of the complaints focus on overcharging of commissions, the spokesman said.  Since 2009, the Department revoked licenses of 12 employment agencies in Hong Kong largely because of overcharging commission. The city has about 1,200 employment agencies now.

The spokesman of Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong, Sam Aryadi, said the consulate is fully committed to protecting Indonesian citizens abroad and it always coordinates with the Hong Kong authorities for the resolution of all issues concerning foreign domestic helpers.  He said the consulate has established an annual evaluation and accreditation mechanism for the agencies in Hong Kong to gain and renew their licenses. Currently, there are only 239 agencies that have achieved accreditation from the consulate. Since 2009, the consulate has sanctioned 26 agencies for misconduct, with punishment ranging from warnings, suspension of licenses to cancellation of licenses, he said.

Amnesty International called on both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments to strengthen the monitoring of recruitment agencies and sanction those agencies that violate the laws.

“Recruitment and placement agents are flagrantly breaching laws designed to protect migrant domestic workers from abuse. The near total lack of action by Hong Kong and Indonesian authorities means these women continue to be exploited for profit, “ said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific Migrant Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.