JEAN ROUCH FOUNDATION and THINKYOUNG
THY LAB's Feature Film
Indonesian Women Migrant Workers
in Hong Kong
In December 2017, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a former Indonesian domestic worker who was severely tortured by her employer, was awarded more than HK$800,000 for the assault. Despite the hardships she went through, the abuse did not stop her from going to university to study economic management and joining campaigns for migrant domestic workers’ rights in Indonesia.
Her inspiring story has shown us that there is more than meets the eye when investigating the world of migrant workers.
The purpose of this project is to address the hardships of Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong, to empower them with filmmaking skills and give them a voice in the produced movie. Indonesian domestic workers are the second largest group of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. However, compared with Filipino domestic workers, Indonesian domestic workers are more vulnerable due to a language barrier.
Migrant domestic workers started coming to Hong Kong to make up for a shortage of local staff since the 1970s. Due to a lack of accessible child care and elder care services, employers in Hong Kong often depend on these domestic workers to look after children and elderly at home.
A 2016 research conducted by Justice Centre, a local non – governmental organization (NGO), revealed that one in three households with children in Hong Kong employs a migrant domestic worker. High-income families depend heavily on foreign domestic workers to take care of the children, so that more women are able to enter the workforce. According to the Immigration Department, there are more than 350,000 migrant domestic workers in 2016, of whom Indonesians count for over 40 per cent, currently the second largest group after the Filipinos. Recent years have seen an increasing number of Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong: +24 per cent from 2008 to 2016.
The Situation In Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a racially diverse society, with ethnic minorities making up about eight per cent of the whole population (2016) in reference to the data from the Census and Statistics Department. Yet, a portion of these ethnic minorities who are contributing to society have faced prejudice and discrimination in their everyday lives. A 2014 survey commissioned by Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), an independent statutory body in Hong Kong, revealed that 15 per cent of Indonesian domestic workers suffers from discrimination, mostly racial harassment, in employment. Likewise, another study led by EOC in 2012 reported that foreign domestic workers faced discrimination in the housing estates that they live and work in, not being allowed to use the building’s facilities including the clubhouse and the swimming pool.
The high-profile abuse cases in Hong Kong such as the ordeal of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih have drawn global attention on migrant domestic workers’ vulnerabilities to violence and abuse. They experience a wide range of abuses, from verbal threats to sexual and physical violence.
A 2013 survey conducted by Mission for Migrant Workers discovered that nearly 60 per cent of migrant domestic workers encountered verbal abuse, 18 per cent experienced physical abuse, and 6 per cent experienced sexual abuse. In short, the abuses against migrant domestic workers are pervasive, yet the current live-in law, and two-week rule which requires domestic workers to leave Hong Kong within two weeks after termination deter the victims of abuse from seeking justice.
Many women flock to Hong Kong from less advantaged households in Indonesia in the hope of supporting their families back home. Recruitment agencies take advantage over many of these desperate women and exploit them by charging excessive recruitment fees. Although Hong Kong and Indonesian laws set limitations on these fees, at least two reports (Students Against Fees and Exploitation & Coming Clean An Overview by Justice Centre) show that many employment agencies disregard these regulations. For example, a research done by Justice Centre in 2016 suggested that over 35 per cent of migrant domestic workers are heavily indebted with debts equal to or more than 30 per cent of their annual income.
Debt bondage bars migrant domestic workers from leaving the workplace even when they are being exploited or abused. This makes it harder for them to speak up against abusive practices and excessive recruitment fees.
The working and living conditions of Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong have invariably been overlooked. The mandatory live–in law puts domestic worker into inadequate accommodation conditions. According to a research released by the non-profit Mission for Migrant Workers in 2017, more than 40 per cent of migrant domestic workers are not provided with their own room. Among them, 1 in 50 sleeps in areas such as toilets, storage rooms, balconies, music rooms, dressing rooms, etc. In short, the live-in rule, in some ways, has infringed domestic workers’ privacy and made them endure undesirable living and working conditions.
Should these domestic workers become pregnant, they are treated unfairly by employers which jeopardizes their futures and that of the unborn children. Although it is against the law to dismiss foreign domestic workers for being pregnant, Pathfinder, a frontline charity, suggested that many pregnant migrant domestic workers are unlawfully fired. Without a job, they also lose access to social benefits such as affordable healthcare or food aids. Knowing that they may face severe discriminations or threats if they return home, some of the pregnant domestic workers end up overstaying or filing claims for asylum-seeker status in Hong Kong, according to TIME and Reuters.
Indonesian migrant workers are vulnerable to abuses, exploitation and human trafficking,
Practices that result in, or tend to lead to, exploitation, abuses and trafficking of DWs
1| Absent of or ineffective pre-departure training:
Does not provide proper information on human rights, realities, conditions of work
2| Illegal or extortion fees by recruitment agencies:
Debt bondage; mortgaging/selling of property
Illegal recruitment (false promise of work or terms of work)
Contract substitution (false contracts)
/ Female migration for domestic work does not only happen in Hong Kong but also occurs around the globe. There are 11.5 million migrant domestic workers worldwide, who are predominantly women from developing countries, according to a 2015 International Labour Organization report. It is a growing global phenomenon that makes this film relatable to different countries and regions.
/ Migrants contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of societies both in their host and home countries. The money, also known as remittances, that migrants send back home can improve the livelihoods of millions and, in turn, strengthen economies, especially in developing countries. In 2015, the number of international migrants reached 244 million. International migrants sent an estimated $581.6 billion to their families in their home countries in 2015. Out of this amount, developing countries received about $431.6 billion, nearly three times the amount of official development assistance.
/ Domestic workers, largely women, provide invaluable services to families, and make up a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment. Yet, they are among the most vulnerable groups in the workforce and face a number of human and labour rights abuses. Even though women make up 44.3 per cent of the estimated 150 million migrant workers worldwide, they make up a much larger per cent of international migrant domestic workers at 73.4 per cent.
1 in every 25 female wage earners are employed in domestic work globally, and almost every sixth domestic worker in the world is an international migrant.