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Migrants to protest Labour’s inaction in dead OFW’s case

01 March 2019

Lorain Asuncion

By The SUN

A migrant workers’ union is set to protest the failure of the Hong Kong Labour Department to investigate the events that led to an overseas Filipino worker being sent by her employer to Shenzhen, where she apparently took her own life more than a year ago.

The response by the Filipino Migrant Workers Union came in the wake of reports that the family of domestic worker Lorain Asuncion was left facing another blank wall in its quest to gain a semblance of justice over her death because of Labour’s inaction.

According to the deceased’s sister, Jenevieve A. Javier, the Labour Department had not investigated the case reportedly because Asuncion died outside Hong Kong.

Lawyer Teddy Lam, a partner at solicitors’ firm Boase, Cohen and Collins, relayed the news about Labour’s lack of action in a private message to Javier earlier this week.

“I have written to the Labour Department to see whether they had done any investigation. The reply is that they did not investigate as the accident happened outside Hong Kong,” Lam said.

He said he is willing to assist the Asuncion family’s quest for compensation if the latter has evidence to prove its case.

“I have to advise you that the legal burden of proof rest(s) on our shoulders. You have to understand that we lawyers have to rely on evidence, in particular, that legal aid is funding this case,” Lam said.

Earlier, Asuncion’s employers who had been out on police bail, were ordered released with no charges being filed against them.

The authorities’ inaction sparked an angry reaction from Eman Villanueva, chairperson of FMWU.

“This sets a dangerous precedent,” Villanueva said. “It sends the message that once a foreign domestic worker is sent out of Hong Kong to work elsewhere, the employer is no longer accountable to her.”

In fact, said Villanueva, the worker should be better protected by both Hong Kong’s laws and those of the foreign place where she is sent to work.

In many countries in Europe and in the United States, for example, he said the rule is that the worker who is brought there should be paid the prevailing salary, and protected by their own labor laws.

He said his group will consider staging a protest action outside the Labor Department’s offices to protest its inaction.

FMWU's Eman Villanueva

They will also seek help from Labour legislator Fernando Cheung on whether he could initiate a legislative inquiry into the case.

Villanueva said the fact that legal aid had already been granted to Asuncion’s family’s quest for compensation indicates there is probable ground their claim is justified.

Asuncion, 28, plunged to her death from the 22nd floor flat of her female employer’s father in Longgang District, Shenzhen, either on July 23 or 24, 2017.

Three autopsies conducted on her remains all reached the same conlusion – that there was nothing suspicious in her death.

However, the question of how she ended up working in the house of her employer’s father, and why she ended up becoming despondent enough to commit suicide, has not been resolved.

Javier, who has been granted a special power of attorney by her elderly parents to pursue their search for justice for Asuncion’s death, is at a loss over what to do now.

An investigation by Labour could confirm what to her was apparent - that her sister was ordered by her employers Gu Haiyu and his wife, Ms Liu, to cross the border and perform work for another person.

If that could be proven, then the employers should at the very least be held accountable for violating their employment contract that said Asuncion should only work at the address provided there, said Villanueva.

“The offence could be worse, because this has all the signs of human trafficking,” said Villanueva.

But since Hong Kong has unfortunately no law against human trafficking, he said Labour and Immigration should at the very least look into why Asuncion ended up working illegally across the border.

News about the department’s inaction came 10 months after the Hong Kong police released Asuncion’s former employers from criminal liability for the Filipina’s death due to insufficient evidence.

The couple were arrested but allowed to post bail a couple of months after Asuncion’s fatal fall. They were cleared after several months of investigation.

“After enquiry and investigation, police had sought legal advice and it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge any person,” a police spokesman said in response to an enquiry on May 11 last year.

“The arrested 47-year-old man and the 32-year-old woman were released,” he said, adding that investigation continued on the Shenzhen side. However, there has been no word either if the Chinese side has completed its investigation, and what its findings are.

Forensic experts from the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau and from a local university who examined Asuncion’s remains separately shortly after the tragedy had both ruled out foul play. A third autopsy by Hong Kong police on Nov 14 made the same findings.

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