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Migrant concern groups in HK call for better protection for foreign maids

Migrant concern groups in Hong Kong are calling on the government to better protect the rights of foreign domestic workers.

HONG KONG: Migrant concern groups in Hong Kong are calling on the government to better protect the rights of foreign domestic workers.

On Wednesday, a Hong Kong woman was charged for allegedly abusing three maids under her supervision.

The plight of her former maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who is being treated in a hospital in Indonesia, has attracted international attention because of the horrific injuries she suffered.

Dozens of domestic workers marched from Central to the Labour Department in Wanchai in Hong Kong, demanding greater protection for the 300,000 foreign maids that work in the city.

Thousands more had marched for Sulistyaningsih on Sunday.

Sulistyaningsih had suffered eight months of abuse under her former employer, a 44-year-old housewife Law Wan-Tung.

She is now being treated for multiple injuries such as a broken upper jaw, nose fracture as well as brain swelling.

When Sulistyaningsih tried to seek help from the recruitment agency that placed her, she was convinced to go back because she had not paid-off her agency fees yet.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body, said: "The Labour Department is not doing its job. It should start implementing the 10 per cent maximum fee that the agency can collect.

"And aside from that, the government should take a concrete step to allow the live-out as an option. We're not calling for abolition of live-in. What we're saying is that live-out should be an option, and it is line with international standards."

According to Mr Villanueva, Erwiana has appointed a lawyer in Hong Kong, and may sue the government as it failed in its duty to protect her from torture or cruelty under its Bill of Rights.

A United Nations monitor group is also urging the Hong Kong government to relax the two-week rule for maids to seek new contracts, and step up inspections for live-in maids.

A local concern group said the two-week rule effectively means migrant workers will have to leave the territory and incur hefty agency fees again if they seek a new employer.

Doris Lee, chairwoman of Open Door, said: "Hong Kong employers are divided. I think there are some who agree that policies could be changed and it wouldn't hurt them.

"You know, if other people want to let their helpers live (outside), then fine. But there are some (employers) who have a very strict idea that if their (helpers') rights are improved, (they are) going to lose, (they) will have less control, (and they) will have to keep changing helpers and no one is helping (them)."

On a brighter note, Sulistyaningsih is apparently feeling better now, despite complaints of occasional dizziness and poor eyesight.

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