Maternal Justice

Sri*, an Indonesian domestic worker, has worked for the same employer in Hong Kong since 2013. She has been through two contract renewals and received verbal confirmation from the employer that she would soon sign a third contract. Although Sri knew the job was a far cry from ideal working conditions with taxing work, long hours and insufficient and inconsistent access to daily meals, she persisted as she felt a sense of loyalty to this employer and hoped that the same respect would be returned.

Unfortunately, Sri would later learn that the same sense of loyalty and compassion that she had shown her employer for the past five years would be unrequited when she needed them most.

During autumn of 2017 Sri started to feel unwell and noticed that her stomach was growing, so she visited a local hospital who confirmed she was pregnant. Although this is typically a joyful time for many women as they prepare for the arrival of a new baby, the news brought worry and stress to Sri as she didn’t believe it would be well received by her employer. After leaving the hospital, Sri visited a Hong Kong based organisation that helps pregnant migrant women in distress and their Hong Kong born children. She was provided with information informing her of her maternity rights. (Click here for a listing of those rights).

After returning to her employer’s home, Sri informed her employer of her pregnancy and provided a copy of her medical certificate. As she expected, it was not welcome news. The employer took Sri to an agency where she was questioned about her pregnancy and a representative tried to persuade her to quit her job as, she was told, the employer had found a new domestic worker. Sri insisted that she wished to return to her job after taking her maternity leave but was told that the employer can dismiss her any time after the baby is born.

Following the meeting at the agency, things quickly deteriorated. Although the employers were aware of her pregnancy, they continued to demand that Sri perform strenuous tasks such as heavy lifting and denied her access to a reasonable amount of food. The employer also continued to withhold her passport which the employer had retained since the beginning of her employment, though Sri later recovered it.

Sri was subsequently referred to HELP for Domestic Workers (HELP)) for advice and support in dealing with both the emotional toll and legal issues relating to her employment situation. Due to the stress brought on by deteriorating treatment by the employer, Sri inadvertently overstayed her visa by one day as she was only granted one year work visa and was required to leave and re-enter Hong Kong in order to obtain an extension. HELP quickly assisted and successfully sought consideration from the Immigration Department in having her visa extended. Additionally, HELP reached out to the employer on Sri’s behalf to explain what Sri’s rights as a pregnant domestic worker were. HELP also advised Sri that although she may face great pressure from the employer for her to resign from her job, she was well within her legal rights to refuse.

Following the birth of her child and her maternity leave, Sri reached out to her employers to inform them that she was ready to return to work. However, much to her disappointment, upon her arrival in the employers’ home, she was greeted with a termination letter and told to pack her belongings. Sri quickly contacted HELP and was advised of her rights. She did not sign the termination letter as it did not have a date nor did it state a reason for her being let go. Sri’s refusal to sign the letter angered the employer, who then dug her heels in and would not grant Sri her rightful termination entitlements.

Again, Sri turned to HELP for guidance on the next steps in claiming what was rightfully owed to her. She filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) claiming sex discrimination as it was clear to her that her dismissal was on account of her pregnancy. Additionally, she lodged a claim with the Hong Kong Labour Department for unreasonable dismissal. Having worked for the same employer for nearly 5 years, she would have qualified for long service pay.

Understandably however, Sri grew tired of the prolonged legal battle and decided to accept a settlement sum lower than what she originally claimed in order put the matter behind her and so she could return to her family in Indonesia.

We congratulate Sri for the courage she had shown in enforcing her rights throughout this ordeal.

*The client’s name was changed to protect her privacy.