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Pandemic put migrant helpers in worse situation, Mission study shows

14 May 2020

By The SUN

Mission volunteers and clients showing off a donation of disinfectants to help in their anti-virus relief

Cases of migrant workers being made to work long hours and subjected to both physical and sexual abuses by their employers worsened in 2019, but Covid-19 has put them in a far worse situation.

This is according to the just-released 2019 service report of the Mission for Migrant Workers, which was supplemented with a survey on Covid-19 concerns covering the first quarter of 2020.

“MDWs are found more vulnerable to labor rights violations in the first quarter of (2020) due to the outbreak of Covid-19,” Mission general manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez said in a statement accompanying the report.

The supplemental survey showed that for the period between early February to early March, nearly half, or 40% of migrant workers, had not left their employer’s house due to Covid-19.

In addition, 1 out of 5 or 20%, were not given their regular rest day.

The survey, which had 1,127 respondents, and was carried out with help from the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants and the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, also showed that around 40,000 foreign domestic workers were not given a rest day for the entire month.

Mission volunteers with migrants out on their day-off, which 40% did not get to enjoy
Tellez said that the difficulties already faced by migrant domestic workers were magnified by Covid-19 outbreak.

“Panic and fear may have overwhelmed the people in the territory. This general disposition caused by Covid-19 resulted in the violation of the rights of some of these workers,” she said.

The problems were made worse by the scaled-back services by the Labour Department and the courts, which Tellez said, left many migrant workers with no access to grievance mechanisms.
The annual report itself, which surveyed a total of 5,023 FDWs who availed of the Mission’s services, showed that nearly all, or 96%, had complained of long working hours. Over half of them worked between 11 to 16 hours a day, and the others, even longer.

Another big concern was the lack of suitable accommodation, with 52% of the respondents saying they did not have their own room.

“This shows that suitable accommodation is still a serious concern. Besides, 29% of them complain about insufficient food provision,” Tellez said.

The Mission first highlighted the problem in a 2017 research, which gave details of extreme sleeping arrangements the workers had to live with.
“The problem of poor living conditions prevents MDWs from really resting in their employer’s home. This issue is magnified especially during the outbreak of Covid-19, where MDWs are advised to stay home during their rest day,” she added.

The Mission report also showed that nearly half, or 45% of the FDWs were made to work before taking their weekly day-off, while 21% had no regular one-day off in a week.

The report also suggested a drastic increase in physical or sexual abuses experienced by the respondents in the workplace, with 15% reporting of physical abuse, one and a half times more than in 2018.

Rape and sexual harassment made up 2% of the abuse cases, double the number from last year, the report said.

“The MFMW urges the Hong Kong government to abolish discriminatory restrictions and to provide protection and assistance addressing MDWs’ situation that have long been discussed. MDWs in Hong Kong should not be left unprotected,” Tellez said.
2 out of 3 helpers who seek help have work-related concerns

But the biggest number of cases handled by the Mission last year was labor-related.

Almost 70% of the helpers who sought help reported violations of their employment contract, premature termination and nonpayment of wages and benefits under the Employment Ordinance.

The number last year was 9% more than in 2018.

Another recurring concern is the overcharging by employment agencies. An overwhelming number, or 80%, complained of having been made to pay more than the 10% legal fee, when they applied for jobs in Hong Kong.

The MFMW assisted in claiming back these entitlements by providing information and guidance, shelter, and supporting their conciliation processor cases filed at the Labour Department and the Judiciary.

With the Mission’s help, distressed maids from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries in Asia recovered $2,312,850 of their monetary claims last year. That was more than $300,000 bigger than the amount recovered in 2018, the NGO said.

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