CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Live-in rule leads to more abuse, groups argue

HONG KONG (SE): Migrant rights groups, and a spokesperson of the Justice and Peace Commission, expressed disappointment over the February 14 High Court ruling to uphold the mandatory live-in policy for foreign domestic workers, as it showed a lack of understanding of their plight.
 
Nancy Almorin Lubiano, a Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, lost the judicial review when the court ruled that the live-in arrangement is one of the requirements of working in Hong Kong and there is no direct relationship between abuses and the live-in arrangement.
 
According to a February 15 report in the South China Morning Post, Justice Anderson Chow Ka-ming, said in a 62-page judgment that, “It cannot seriously be argued that the imposition of the live-in requirement would directly constitute, or give rise to, a violation of the (foreign domestic helpers) fundamental rights,” he said. 
 
“If, after coming to work in Hong Kong, the foreign domestic helper finds it unacceptable, for any reason, to reside in his/her employer’s residence, it is well within his/her right or power to terminate the employment,” he continued.
 
The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body said in a February 14 statement that it disagreed with the ruling and that the live-in policy infringed on the rights of foreign domestic workers. 
 
“It means foreign domestic workers can be forced to work beyond reasonable hours because they fear the displeasure of their employer and hence have their contract terminated,” the statement said.
 
The group also pointed out that the live-in arrangement provides more opportunities for abusive employers to take unfair advantage as an injured worker can be confined to an employer’s home for a long time without anyone noticing, as in the case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, the Indonesian worker who won a civil claims case against her abusive employer on 27 February 2015.
 
District court judge, Amanda Woodcock, who handed down the conviction in Sulistyaningsih’s case, stated that if only there were no mandatory live-in policy, the abuse would not have happened. 
 
In handing down a maximum six-year prison term and $15,000 fine to Law Wan-tung, Sulistyaningsih’s former employer, Woodcock said that she believes the government needs to review the ban on living-out. (Sunday Examiner, 8 March 2015).
 
Jackie Hung Ling-yu of the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission pointed out that, contrary to what Justice Chow said in his ruling, it is extremely difficult for foreign domestic workers to terminate their employment given the large agency fees they are compelled to pay before coming to Hong Kong as well as the immigration requirement to leave Hong Kong within 14 days for workers without employment.
 
She believes that if the government is unwilling to change the live-in rule, it will be necessary for the immigration department to set up a monitoring mechanism to make sure workers can have a reasonable accommodation arrangement with privacy.
 
Hung observed that the live-in rule, given the present high property prices, will only mean more workers will sleep in toilets, kitchens or on balconies. She added that the tiny size of the servant’s room of many new apartments doesn’t actually allow a person to stretch their legs while sleeping.
 
Prior to 2003, it was legal for foreign domestic workers to live out and this was indicated in the employment contract. 
 
In 2003, the Hong Kong government changed the law to supposedly prevent domestic workers from taking illegal part-time jobs and allegedly competing with local workers.

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