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Agencies eye Cambodia for victims, says HK rights lawyer

20 May 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Lawyer Patricia Ho
Hong Kong employment agencies’ are claiming a shortage of skilled helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia because they want workers who are easy to manipulate or abuse, a local human rights lawyer says.

Patricia Ho, a pro bono lawyer of church groups and NGOs and an employer herself, expressed outrage at the agencies’ claims that there is a shortage of labor.

“Any shortage of labor is a complete lie,” said Ho at a forum held to introduce the group Students Against Fees and Exploitation at Hong Kong University on May 11.

Ho was reacting to a recent news report that the agencies welcome the opening of Hong Kong’s job market to Cambodian domestic workers to fill the demand for skilled helpers.

“I was so enraged when I read that. Just the fact that Hong Kong employment agencies welcomed the move sounds all the alarm bells…All over Hong Kong there are many domestic helpers looking for jobs,” Ho said.

She said Filipino, Thai and Indonesian helpers are increasingly educated about their labor rights so the agencies look for labor “who are easy to manipulate, cheat, take advantage of, or worse still, abuse.”

The lawyer said agencies in Hong Kong thrive on excessive fees and black market practices and “need victims” – Cambodians who largely do not speak English or Chinese.

She said the Cambodians’ “sometimes low education, being placed in a city where you don’t speak the language (and) where you’re not familiar with the laws, having your passport retained by agents and being usually in debt bondage for agencies…are indicators of forced labour or human trafficking”.

Hongkongers are generally kind employers who are enraged when NGOs accuse them of mistreating their employees, Ho said.

It is only a small minority, especially agents who profit from the trade in helpers, who maltreat the most vulnerable and probably the weakest among them, Ho said. “It is these most vulnerable ones that we have to protect, and it is those agents that we have to bring to justice,” she added.

Ho said “the agencies are experts at skirting existing laws and the authorities are slow in bringing them to justice… The government is actively turning a blind eye to forced labour and human trafficking, and worse still, they continue to create policy and open doors, such as now inviting Cambodian helpers to this slave trade… our government condones the slave trade.”

She urged “fair-minded employers” to back calls for the government to stamp out abuses of the current system and strengthen laws to prevent exploitation of the most vulnerable.

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