Squeeze for domestic workers on big day

Local | Mary Ann Benitez 9 Dec 2019

An NGO catering to Hong Kong's foreign domestic workers marked International Migrants Day yesterday with what could be the shortest march ever.

About 150 workers led by the Mission for Migrant Workers had to settle a walk around the block of the St John's Cathedral compound on Garden Road and Battery Path after police denied them permission to go to Statue Square because of the big protest action.

They set off at 10.30am while holding a banner reading "Walking With Carers" and chanting their mission is "serving migrants anytime, anywhere."

The mission was set up in 1981 as an outreach program of St John's Cathedral and has been a fixture in the trials and tribulations of some 370,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Several NGOs and government agencies offered services for migrants at the four-hour event, including the Equal Opportunities Commission, which gave out advice on their rights as women and workers.

Manning a mission booth was Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a former Indonesian helper whose brutal bashing by her former boss in Hong Kong made headlines worldwide.

Erwiana, 29, finished her university degree in economics at the Catholic University in Indonesia in late 2018 when she went home for good.

Having suffered a fractured spine, Erwinia said she cannot stand for too long or do heavy work.

As a volunteer intern at the mission, Erwiana helps with research and casework. "I'm happy to assist," she said.

On social unrest in Hong Kong, however, Erwiana said migrants would rather stay out of the movement. But she did lament that helpers' problems have worsened, including fees charged by recruitment agencies.

"Before I had to pay back HK$15,000," she said. "Now they charge HK$20,000 or HK$30,000."

And newcomers to Hong Kong lack knowledge of rights.

Mission partners also offered health checks yesterday, the Hong Kong Aids Foundation had advice on protection, and the Environmental Campaign Committee pointed to sustainable alternatives to plastic.

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