How Erwiana won her battle in Hong Kong
On Friday, Feb 27th, Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih arrived at Wan Chai District Court for the verdict on her abusive employer Law…
An Indonesian maid of 23 fought for her rights in court against her abusive employer, attracting renewed attention to human trafficking and sparking one of the workers’ protest movements that led to Occupy Hong Kong.
by Marina Petrillo
On Friday, Feb 27th, Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih arrived at Wan Chai District Court for the verdict on her abusive employer Law Wan-tung. A young woman of 23, she bravely fought in court despite her fragile position in Hong Kong as a foreigner and exploited worker. She accused her employer of beating her, of making her sleep on the floor, of refusing her hospital care after the beatings, of threatening her life if she revealed mistreatment to her family.
Upon hearing about the sentence, Erwiana commented that the fine imposed on her employer (about 2,000 USD) is not sufficient, but that she is glad to see her going to jail. Law Wan-tung was found guilty on 18 charges. Abuses on Erwiana were deemed tantamount to torture.
Here is Erwiana’s statement after the sentence:
As underlined by the HK Domestic Helpers campaign, Judge Amanda Woodcock found that leading to more frequent abuse is the forced cohabitation of helper and employer, which is compulsory in Hong Kong. Adhering to this old law is the only way to avoid immigration police inspections and expulsion from the country.
In 2o13, helpers were refused one of their main requests, a chance to obtain permanent residency in Hong Kong.
Recruiting agencies are also known to keep the workers passports as a way to control them.
The judge in Erwiana’s case also called into question the role of recruiting agencies, stating that it is time for both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments to investigate the exploitation of domestic workers through agencies and loan companies.
This is a statement by the Mission for Migrant Workers of St John’s Cathedral, officially representing Erwiana in court, earlier this year, on reported abuses in connection with mandatory live-in employment:
Earlier in February, the creation of a new, ethically responsible, non-profit recruiting agency was announced.
Erwiana’s case is considered the tip of an iceberg. Previous verdicts in similar trials dismissed claims by domestic helpers of having suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of their employers. Erwiana said on a number of occasions that she would like to be an inspiration for others and build a foundation helping cases like hers.
Her example led to many of Erwiana’s colleagues protesting for months in the streets of Hong Kong, contributing to the unions and workers protests that preceded and inspired the students’ Occupy Hong Kong.
In January, this was how domestic workers protested in the streets of Causeway Bay, depicting for onlookers how foreign women are trapped between their wealthy and often abusive employers and the recruiting agencies loaning them money to reach the country.