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Lanie is back home – for now

15 August 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

Lanie at HK airport about to fly home
Nine months after fleeing the flat of a couple she claims subjected her to slave-like treatment, Lanie Grace Rosareal, 28, has returned home.

The Filipina domestic worker left Hong Kong on Aug. 11, after finally being allowed to apply for a new employment visa so she could resume work while fighting her case against her former employer and her companion who Rosareal says, subjected her to physical abuse, and did not pay her salary for six months.

Rosareal was one of the few lucky migrant workers who could go home while waiting for their cases to be resolved. Many others are forced to either remain in Hong Kong -unemployed for months while the police investigate their cases - or to just give up the fight and return home.

Luck for Rosareal came when the solicitors firm, Daly, Ho and Associates, one of Hong Kong’s foremost human rights advocates, agreed to take up her case. Shocked by the sight of a “punishment book” where her employer’s companion, Au Wai-chun, had listed down imaginary faults for which Rosareal was fined each time, solicitor Patricia Meason-Ho readily agreed to take up her case.

On this page in the "punishment book" Au warned: "Also continue like this I sure will send you to police"
Here, Au calculated that up to Oct 23 (2017) the maid owed $3,600. The next day, it shot up to $5,000. 

Another fact that stood out was Au’s prior conviction for pouring hot water on a Bangladeshi maid for which the retired immigration officer was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay damages of $200,000.

On the solicitors’ advice, Rosareal managed to have a new employment contract filed with Immigration within the 10-day limit she was given so she could exit and wait for her visa in the Philippines.

Help was also extended by Consul Paulo Saret of the Philippine Consulate General and Labor Attache Leonida Romulo, who teamed up to make sure the Filipina’s new employment contract was processed within one day so she could immediately file it with Immigration.

But on Thursday, Aug. 9, Rosareal’s bid to acquire a new work visa was almost derailed when an Immigration officer rejected her employment contract, and even shouted “Do not waste my time!” when she suggested he conferred with her counselor. A quick call from Daly and Ho caused the officer to back off and accept the contract.

Also working in Rosareal’s favor was an incisive story on her case written by Simon Parry for the SCMP magazine, and published on Aug. 12. The article included lengthy interviews with Rosareal and her alleged tormentor, 65-year-old Au, and her erstwhile employer, Leung Shet-ying, 63.

In the article, Au denied hurting Rosareal, saying she treated the maid either as a “naughty daughter” or “naughty student” for which she had set up some rules for punishment and rewards.

While reportedly admitting that she imposed a penalty on Rosareal for every infraction, Au claimed she gave back most of the maid’s salary after taking it to pay for the cumulative fines for the month. However, no record was made in the punishment book for any such salary that had been paid back.

Rosareal fled the house shared by Leung and Au in Tseung Kwan O on Nov 17 last year. She was rescued, along with newly hired Filipina maid, Rowela S. Suete, by a Filipino community leader who had responded to Suete’s appeal for help on Facebook.

In statements she made to labour officers and the police, Rosareal claimed that Au had subjected her to almost daily torture from May to November last year. The elderly woman had reportedly hit her on the head with a knife and a TV remote control, boxed her in the arm, clawed on her wrists and neck, poked her at the throat with a pair of scissors, and made her kneel and bang her head on the floor.

Once, the maid said she was told to bang her forehead thrice on the floor, but when she failed to do it hard enough on the first try, Au, who reportedly pretends to be wheelchair-bound when outside the house, stomped hard on her back. At Suete’s prodding, Rosareal said she took a photo of the big bump on her forehead as evidence.
Rosareal's photo of the bump on her forehead

During the prolonged abuse, Leung reportedly stayed out of the way most of the time, but would be prevailed upon by Au sometimes to hit the Filipina with a walking stick.

Apart from the abuse, Rosareal said she was not paid her salary for the entire period because of the penalties that Au imposed for such a range of bizarre infractions such as “give the ugly hanger” to “not pay attention to the underwear” or “not stand in front of her when she complains”.

Leung would reportedly pay her salary each month, but would then tell her to go to Au to settle her “penalties.” Rosareal said that as a result, she never got any pay, but would just be given $100 or $200 by Au the few times she was allowed to leave for a few hours on a Sunday.

She never took an entire day off, Rosareal claimed, because by the end of each month, she would always come out owing Au. For the period of Sept 22 to Oct 23, for example, Au’s computation showed she still owed $3,750 after turning over her entire salary.

On her last entry in the punishment book, a total sum of $29,230 was recorded, presumably as the accumulation of all her unpaid penalties.

Recalling those times recently, Rosareal bitterly said Au would even take her to a shopping mall sometimes, and would make a big show of splurging on luxury items from the fines that she collected.

"She would show me an expensive bag or a blouse which she said she had bought with my money," the Filipina said. 
Rosareal's photo - taken while Au on trial for
her assault on Bangladeshi maid in 2014

Despite her lengthy ordeal, Lanie did not get immediate relief. Police in Tseung Kwan O took her statement without an interpreter, then told her Au had been arrested, but was allowed to post bail. She was given no more updates since.

A check with the Police Public Relations Bureau showed that Au was arrested on Dec. 11, 2017 for "criminal assault and intimidation" but was released on police bail. She was required to report back in late August, a good eight months away. "Investigation of the case has been completed and is pending legal advice," said the advisory.
Au on her way to her trial in a wheelchair and
wearing a hand splint - SCMP photo

In the meantime, Hong Kong Immigration kept extending Rosareal's visa, but when she submitted a new employment contract, she was told it would not be processed until her case was resolved. 

Failing to get Leung to pay her claims before Labour Department conciliators, Rosareal took her case to the Labour Tribunal. But in January this year, she faced another setback when Tribunal Officer Mary Wu decided that all she was entitled to was $2,408.70 in unpaid wages and traveling allowance.

Wu said in open court that it was not irregular for Leung to pay Rosareal's salary, then tell the maid to go to Au to settle her "penalties".

"That is nothing to do with the contract. You are being punished because maybe you have done something wrong and that's why the employer punish you or that Madam Au punish you and you have to pay compensation to them," said Wu.

The tribunal officer told Rosareal to go to the Small Claims Tribunal if she wished to get her money back from Au, and at one point even suggested the maid could have written on the punishment book herself.

Left with no choice but to wait for the police to act on her case, Rosareal tried to keep her spirits up by doing volunteer work for the Philippine Overseas Labor Office. She also helped some of her fellow wards at a government shelter pursue their respective cases, but it was not always easy. Unemployed and still suffering from the trauma of the past year, Rosareal had to go for counseling
three times a week, and in between, look for ways to keep afloat and sane.

She had thought of going home, but was prevailed upon by several people to stay, saying police would probably dismiss her complaint if she left.

With the latest twist in her story going her way, Rosareal says she hopes justice is finally within reach.

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