More than 20 domestic workers from Madagascar have sought HELP’s advice and assistance over the last two years. They complained of wage deductions, extortionate fees demanded by their employment agency and a money lender, the agency’s retention of their passport, all elements of debt bondage and possibly, human trafficking. We have been successful in helping a number of these brave women recover the money unlawfully taken from them, but other cases are still ongoing. One such successful case is that of Amy. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Amy left her home and family in Madagascar two years ago to become a domestic worker in Hong Kong. She spoke with us about the problems she has encountered while working in Hong Kong and how, with HELP’s support and pro bono assistance from lawyers, she was successful in resolving them.
HELP: Can you tell us about yourself and why you came to Hong Kong?
Amy: I came to Hong Kong in February 2015 to be a domestic worker. When I arrived, I felt happy and excited to be here and was ready to work. I began working for my previous employer one month later. My main duties were cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the employer’s young daughter.
HELP: What were the problems that you encountered when you were working for your previous employer?
Amy: The first problem arose when my employer cut my salary. According to my contract, my salary should have been HK$4,110, but I only received HK$1,030 – my employer said I had to pay the employment agency. Back in Madagascar, my agency told me I had to pay the Hong Kong agency, but did not tell me how much. The following month, the employer cut my salary again, and again and again. She did it for eight months straight.
My situation worsened when I found a small tumour in my neck. My employer insisted that I have an operation even though I felt strong and able to do my job. They said the procedure would only take two hours and it would make me feel better and more capable. They allowed me a week’s rest at the agency after the operation, but did not pay me for that week. For months afterwards, I was in pain and felt I could not perform my duties as well as before. My employer moved to another house where I had to sleep on the floor and I was made to work in two houses. After I complained, they terminated my contract.
HELP: How did you overcome these challenges? Was it easy to find help?
Amy: It was not very easy for me because, at that time, I was very new to Hong Kong so I did not know where to go or how to get there. My friends gave me HELP’s business card and suggested I reach out to them. It was not easy for me, that first time, to go to the HELP office, but I knew I really needed assistance. The staff at HELP truly did help me, and by my second visit I felt at ease talking to and receiving guidance from them.
HELP: What advice would you give to other domestic workers with similar problems?
Amy: My advice is do not be afraid to seek help when you have a problem. HELP for Domestic Workers assisted me in resolving my case. They guided me the whole way through, from beginning to end. Now that it is over, I am so thankful for them.
HELP: What are your future plans?
Amy: I am so happy that I have finished my case, but the one thing I know is that I do not want to come back to Hong Kong. My time in Hong Kong gave me problems and hard, hard work. I have been a domestic worker in other countries, but I had a good life in those places with employers who paid the proper salary. Even now that the case is finished, even now that I feel so happy, I do not want to come back to Hong Kong.
The problems Amy faced here obviously and unfortunately tarnished her image of Hong Kong. We should strive to do better as a community. We are grateful to Amy for sharing her experiences with us and wish her success in her future endeavours.