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Our Report, Our Service, Our Mission

20 April 2017

By Cynthia Tellez

In place of giving ways of addressing specific concerns, do allow us to share with you some highlights of the Mission’s work in 2016 including the trend of cases we handled as reflected in our Service Report and our corresponding responses. At the end of this article are certain tips on the most common problems presented to us last year.

The Mission conducts internal evaluation of its services to determine the quantity and the quality of the assistance extended to migrant workers. A review of our 2016 services showed a general increase across-the-board of case intake, inquiries, reach and recovered claims. This can be attributed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Impact Evaluation and the addition of a Chinese and Indonesian staff in our growing family.

True to our motto of “Serving Migrants Anytime, Anywhere”, we are now in four areas of the New Territories - once in two months, and more frequently in Causeway Bay.

We have also rationalized our empowerment program for migrants. Better and upgraded life and work skills are offered via partnerships with reputable and accredited skills providers like the HK Red Cross and the HK Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council.

Another significant development is the launch of our Happy Homes program. With the aim of fostering a more caring and inclusive society, we work towards building better relationships of employers’ families with migrant workers in the households. We have launched the “Stories of Harmony in the Household” featuring positive stories of mutual respect and care among household workers and families. Since we started our “Employer Awareness program” last November, five employers have come forward to our center or accessed our dedicated hotline.

In response to the awareness survey we did in 2015 which showed that 50% of migrants are newly-arrived, we increased our promotion and visibility in Central.  We distributed thousands of information cards at the HK airport and via our partner migrant associations. Know Your Rights and Responsibilities seminars were regularly held not only in indoor spaces but outdoor public venues to capture more spontaneous audience.

Special thanks definitely goes to the community media, especially to the SUN newspaper for continuing to host our Know Your Rights column and for its effective and real-life advocacy and support towards victims of overcharging, fraud and illegal recruitment. Beyond reporting the cases, it even referred clients to us or cooperated with us in case work.

This, we believe, also inspires and encourages more migrants, especially the newly arrived or newly victimized, to come forward and fight for what is right.

As mentioned above, the 2016 summary report of our services indicated a general increase of migrants seeking assistance from the Mission. In order to address it, we are developing the volunteer system that will be more organic to the Mission’s personnel. We are also regularizing training to upgrade the skills and knowledge of the welfare committees of the organizations of migrant workers.
Termination of contract, police cases and agency-related cases were the three categories that registered an increase in the cases the Mission handled and assisted. Below are some points to remember, especially for new arrivals.

1) Termination of contracts. The contract can be terminated anytime by either the domestic worker or the employer; either by issuing a month’s notice of termination or paying an equivalent amount of the worker’s one month’s salary by the terminating party. Do not sign any blank paper/document especially if that is in place of the payments due you. The safest is to leave the premises of your employer and seek assistance from service providers like the Mission. They will provide you an explanation of your rights and the computation of your claims before reporting to appropriate HK government agency like the Labour Relations Division (LRD). Once you sign any paper and someone else writes down anything there, it can be used as evidence against you. If the employer prevents you from leaving leave unless you signed the paper, dial 999 for police assistance. Explain to the police that you prefer that matters be resolved at the LRD. The police cannot also force you to sign and they should help facilitate your exit from your employer’s house.

2) Police case. If you are being accused of a crime, remember your basic right to remain silent and not to answer any questions by the investigator. This cannot be taken away from you. Before they even start questioning you, the investigator (through an interpreter) must tell you that anything you say may be used as evidence against you in Court. This means that if you agree to answer their questions, they will put it in writing and you will need to sign it together with the interpreter as proof that the contents were really your statement. The Court will accept that as evidence in hearing your case. It is thus better to invoke your right to silence. Seek the assistance of service providers that could refer you to a lawyer for legal advice.

3) Agency-related cases. If you apply to any recruitment/placement agency in Hong Kong, the law that will govern your dealings with the said agency is the law of Hong Kong. It says that the legal fee to pay the agency is only 10% of your first month’s salary. The payment according to the Code of Practice issued by the Labour Department should be done after a successful placement. Meaning that you are required to pay the placement fee only after you receive your first month’s salary. But even if you pay in advance, it should be an equivalent of 10% only of your first month’s salary. However, quite a number of excessive placement fees cases that the Mission handles at the moment are about applying in Hong Kong for jobs outside of Hong Kong, particularly Canada, the UK or other countries. The first thing to know in cases like this is whether or not the agency has a license issued by the  government of Hong Kong to send workers outside of Hong Kong. Another step is to seek assistance from service providers to determine the authenticity of the permit issued to the Hong Kong –based placement agencies to deploy workers (local or foreign) outside. Verification must also be done whether the said agency has a permit from the destination country to deploy workers wanting to work there and/or transact placement business in that country. It is important to secure the whereabouts of their so-called counterpart agency in the destination country and if such agency is also registered to legally deploy workers.

But the best advice to anyone is to seek help from service providers. Do not feel embarrassed or hesitate because it is your life.

There are ways and alternatives to take where you can avoid ruining your future and the future of your family.
This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.
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