She knew that foreign domestic workers often earn far higher wages than what you can find at home. Before her arrival, an employment agency found her a job as an assistant – a job that required her to be a housekeeper, personal chef, nanny and nanny.
Like almost all helpers in Hong Kong, she was legally required to live in her employer’s home.
What she said follows is six months of physical and emotional abuse So painful that she broke her contract and Escaped. “All my body died for him,” says Marta, 37, who has requested a pseudonym to protect her identity. “It is dark in my life.”
The mistreatment Martha describes is not uncommon in Hong Kong, home to more than 390,000 helpers who come largely from the Philippines and Indonesia.
These women make up nearly 10% of the city’s workforce – only about 1% of male helpers – an integral part of Hong Kong’s economy and everyday life. However, it is also one of the most vulnerable communities in the city.
Poor working and living conditions are common complaints.
Activists say the rule of living, which the government cedes only in exceptional circumstances, is forcing women to reside with potentially abusive employers with little help.
After leaving her first employer, Marta said she faced periods of homelessness and unemployment – at one point she slept on a mattress on the floor of her church – before finding a new job.
Now, again on her feet, she is pushing to change the live rule – by bringing her to court.
Foreign domestic workers began coming to Hong Kong in the 1970s, a decade of rapid economic development that saw the city transform from a poor manufacturing center into a financial capital with modern urban infrastructure.
Helpers are usually responsible for cleaning employers ’homes, buying groceries, cooking meals, caring for children and the elderly, and a host of other basic tasks.
The government has argued that there is no such lack of services part-time or other than living, so allowing foreign workers to live would place them in direct competition with local workers.
But there are no standards or requirements for the minimum auxiliaries that should be given space, and the vague, “appropriate” wording means that some are forced to sleep in poor conditions, such as in a bathroom or on the floor.
If the assistant breaks the rule with living outside the home, he will face a ban on working in Hong Kong – and the employer can be banned from hiring assistants. Rather, they can be prosecuted for providing false information punishable by imprisonment or a heavy fine.
Neither privacy nor comfort
Since its introduction, Al Qaeda has attracted critics, who have said it is exacerbating the challenges aides are already facing in their difficult roles.
For example, Hong Kong has long struggled with limited housing space and soaring house prices. Many families live in cramped apartments with barely enough space for their families, let alone helpers.
In this environment, helpers often complain of long hours, lack of privacy, and uncomfortable sleep arrangements. There is also a risk of abuse from employers; When this happens, leaving the job is rarely an option. Doing so would threaten visa status, employment and the ability to support their families.
Dolores Paladares, 50, from the Philippines, arrived in Hong Kong when she was twenty-five years old.
She says that in her first job, she didn’t have her own room. Instead, the employer prepared loose privacy curtains, such as those used around the hospital beds, around the sofa in the living room. At the end of her working day, Paladares was drawing curtains around herself and fighting for sleep.
Her employers and their children will still watch TV a few meters away in the same room.
“He was very insulting,” Paladares said of that first job.
Moreover, living in means means that there is no real difference between the many assistants’ workplaces and personal living space: it is all the same home. The boundaries of work and life can be completely faded, especially since there are no laws around the maximum hours of work per day or week.
Paladares said that she worked more than 12 hours a day, sometimes she woke up at five in the morning and did not sleep until about one in the morning.
She said: “It was a family of five, the parents were working and the children were all studying, so I did everything.” “From preparing breakfast to bringing children to the school bus, then going to the market, ironing, teaching children homework, cleaning the house, and cooking before I sleep at night.”
Although the law requires assistants to have a full 24-hour break every week, this is often not the case. On her vacation days, Paladares says that she will still be required to clean the family’s cars before leaving to meet her friends – and she is told to be at home by 8 pm. So you can clean the dishes and help the kids shower.
In the MFMW survey, more than half of respondents, such as Balladares, said they did not have their own room, and instead had “alternative sleep arrangements”. Aides often share a bunk bed with one of the family’s children.
More than half said they worked between 11 and 16 hours a day, while 44% said they worked more than 16 hours. Almost half said that they were asked to work during rest days. Another 29% said they did not get enough food, which is what an employer is legally obligated to provide, or to give him instead.
Choose between safety and income
Many helpers who face these conditions, or physical and sexual assault, are often reluctant to report it to the authorities for fear of endangering their lives. Taking legal action will be financially and emotionally stressful, and it can deter employers in the future – and that’s not an easy risk when you have family members at home for support.
“The problem here is that (live) rule makes them weak,” said Karen Ng, case manager of the nonprofit HELP domestic worker. “It forces the worker to choose between his safety and an income to support his family.”
Naj added that even if the aides speak frankly, they often do not have enough evidence for the police to help them – when they live, the only witnesses are family members of the employers.
The city’s worst mistreatment caught the city’s attention in 2015, when Hong Kong housewife Lu Wan Tong was found guilty of mistreating her assistant, Iruyana Solestianings, a 23-year-old woman from Indonesia.
Lu regularly strikes Iruyana with the mop handles and coat hangers, and forces her to sleep on the floor, for only five hours a night. Iroyana only took small rations of food, and she warned that her parents would be killed if she told anyone.
Although the law was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, no systemic change followed.
In a report released later that year, the government said changing the live base would overburden housing and public transportation systems in the city, and would conflict with the rationale for importing foreign domestic workers and the basic policy employed by local employees (including local local assistants). It should be a priority at work. ”
A year later, Marta filed a legal objection against al Qaeda.
The struggle to change the rule
In 2016, Marta filed a request for judicial review, arguing that the live rule was discriminatory and increased the risk of violating the basic rights of helpers.
Aides and other activists argue that helpers just want to make a choice – and not all of them will necessarily make them. Many assistants who have good working relationships with employers appreciate the cost-saving component of living, which allows them to send more money to the home.
Some employers also prefer an option if they don’t feel comfortable when inviting a stranger to live in their home.
In such cases, some employers agree to pay to help them live in illegal, indoor homes, which provide shared rooms and common areas. Aides get their own space, privacy, and more control over their working hours – but they also face increased risks, as the police sometimes conduct raids.
“I want freedom – freedom of choice,” said Marta. “Why do not you try to obtain freedom for both the employer and employee?”
But its first failure failed. In 2018, the judge dismissed the case and supported the rule, arguing that in cases of abuse, the problem was the bad employer – not the fact that the assistant was living in the same family.
“There was not enough evidence” that the living rule significantly increased the risk of violating fundamental rights, or that al-Qaeda directly caused the violations, wrote the judge.
The government praised the dismissal, adding in a statement that helpers can “end the contract at any time” if they do not want to live with employers.
The statement did not mention the 14-day rule, or the fact that many assistants who legally leave their contracts are forced to return to their home countries, before applying for a job and visa again.
The government’s response has sparked anger between helpers and activists.
Naj said: “We should not think of domestic workers as Ramat – you don’t like the conditions, don’t come.” “They contribute a lot to society, so why don’t we see them this way? We must take into account that they have rights and have needs.”
Marta now lives with a new employer who says she treats her well, respects her working hours, and gives her her own room. She has found a caring community in her church and is recovering – but she says she still fights Al Qaeda.
She has appealed the ruling and is awaiting the court to release her decision. It is not clear when the verdict will be issued.
“If the employer is beautiful, there is nothing wrong – but what about helpers who have no food, room, or comfort, no choice, no freedom?” She said.
“I am not only fighting for myself, I am fighting for others. I think of other people – so that they have a choice.”