Thousands of domestic helpers protested against the Indonesian government's requirement for maids to go through employment agencies while showing support for abused helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.
Indonesian Migrant Workers Union vice chairwoman Sringatin, who has worked in Hong Kong for 12 years, said the group also demands that the license of Erwiana's agency, Chan's Asia Recruitment Centre, be revoked.
Police estimated 2,100 people joined the protest outside the Indonesian consulate in Causeway Bay while organizers said 4,000 helpers turned up.
Sringatin said Jakarta should allow direct hiring and let helpers change agencies if they want.
"The Indonesian government forces us to take loans and look for jobs through agencies. Or we will not be given any job opportunities," she said.
"We do not want to pay agencies because we come here for work, but we have no choice."
She claimed agencies are abusing workers. "Our passports are confiscated. Complaints are discouraged and we are not allowed to change employers until the payment is completed.
"Besides, many have no way to call for help when they suffer because the information about emergencies given by the Immigration Department when we first arrived is confiscated by agencies."
The group leader said many workers have to give up the first seven months of their salary as "commission" to agencies, involving amounts ranging from HK$14,000 to HK$21,000.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has said Jakarta reacted "positively" to a proposal that the Indonesian government offer low-interest loans to domestic helpers to pay their training and recruitment fees.
Cheung said that in Indonesia, a recruit is required to pay an average of HK$15,000 to the local agency for training and recruitment fees and they are asked to borrow from financial institutions.
"It is a solution for them as it does not take long to pay the loan. The [Jakarta] officials showed positive reaction and said it is worth considering," he said. Meanwhile, Commissioner for Labour Warner Cheuk Wing-hing said there are no plans to blacklist agencies but said the names of ones with previous convictions would be announced online.
Deputy Commissioner for Labour Byron Ng Kwok-keung said the department will step up inspection of employment agencies and regulatory terms. Meanwhile, at City Forum, Amnesty International Hong Kong director Mabel Au Mei-po said two-thirds of 97 domestic helpers interviewed in a survey last year said they had been subjected to verbal and physical abuse.