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Hong Kong: Elis died of slave-like life in agency center

Hong Kong: Elis died of slave-like life in agency center

by IDWFED published Mar 20, 2015 12:00 AM
"Elis didn't just die. She was killed... It was the arrangement agreed by the employer and the agency that placed Elis in that unsafe, unhealthy, unhygienic and unfortunate place at that time." ATKI (Asosiasi Buruh Migran Indonesia di Hong Kong), an association of Indonesian migrant workers described the death of Elis on 16 March 2015 in an agency-operated dormitory as murder. Interviewing domestic migrant workers and volunteer workers, the WKNews is going to show you the slave-like life of living in Hong Kong agency dormitory, and in Indonesian training centre.




Photo: I'm a domestic worker of action

HK "dormitory": 16 people in 100 square feet space, or staying outdoor

The Indonesian domestic worker Cela had been living in a dormitory operated by Sunlight Employment Agency. During her stay, there were 30 - 40 workers living in a tiny space, sleeping on the floor with all their belongings. When this 'dormitory' was full, workers would have to sleep on the terrace outside - the place where Elis was hit by the huge concrete bloc, and died five days later. After Elis' injury, Sunlight claimed that the terrace was just for storing workers' belongings instead of sleeping. However, such claim was refuted by members of ATKI, as several members of ATKI had been arranged to sleep there.

Cela described the life in "dormitory" as humiliating. For example, there were two toilets in the dormitory, one for the agency staff and the other for the workers. Workers have to queue for their one single toilet even if the staff toilet is not in use. On the other hand, they have to ask for staff's permission to cook. Otherwise they would be scolded.

The case of Sunlight is not exclusive. In general, the condition of dormitories provided by Hong Kong agencies is appalling. Yu, a volunteer worker helping Indonesian migrant workers told the WKNews that once she saw 16 workers staying at a subdivided flat of merely 100 square feet. Inside the room, there are two bunk beds - each for 8 workers. Besides, there is a tall wardrobe, a small desk with two laptops. "Everyone has to squeeze through the tiny space like a piece of paper", said Yu.

The living condition is harsher in the training centers in Indonesia. Before working overseas, Indonesian workers must receive training from local agencies for months. Eki, an Indonesian migrant worker who stayed there for 5 months recalled that the food provided was insufficient. The noodles and fried rice provided by the center had no meat at all. On the other hand, the center imposes strict control on the workers. They are required to go to bed at 9:00 pm, monitored by the staff. During bed time, they are not even allowed to talk. In some centers no bed is provided and the workers have to sleep on floors. Mattresses are provided without blankets. So the workers have to bring their own blankets and share with others.

Indonesian center: confinement instead of training

ATKI described the discipline imposed on workers by Sunlight as confinement. According to Cela, the agency requires workers to stay overnight in the dormitory. However, workers are treated in an even more inhumane way in Indonesia.

Once after their arrival to the training center, the recruited workers will have their hair cut. Eki, who had been working in Malaysia, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia before told us that, 80% of the migrant workers she met before were forced to cut their hair short. Centers always claim that it is because the employers want workers to be "clean". However volunteer workers think that such an act is to train workers to become submissive. Eki said the staff in center cut the hair casually. It is extremely humiliating to girls. Once she saw a girl cried for her long hair being removed.

To stop them from escaping, all migrant workers are kept like prisoners in the training center. They are not allowed to go out of the center during the training period. The agency only allows them to meet their families for a few hours on Sunday. Their mobile phones are also confiscated to ensure that they cannot contact anyone outside. Similarly, some agencies would allow workers use their phones just for a few hours on Sunday. "We have to queue for getting the phone on Sunday, and return it to the agency at 5:00 pm," said Eki. To control the workers, the agencies would confiscate their phone when they go overseas, to avoid them from reaching their families and friends. Therefore workers overseas will have to rely only on their agency as their only source of information.

Workers are confined in the center until they are employed. Normally they have to wait for 3 months in the center. During that time, they still need to do the unpaid service for the center. But this is not always the case. Eki was hired 2 months after entering the center, but she had to wait till the end of her emploter's current domestic worker's contract. Therefore she stayed at the center for total 5 months. Eki said she met some other workers who stayed there for 7 to 9 months.

Charging whatever items: bed, electricity, laptop

On the other hand, the agencies in Hong Kong are trying their best to get as much money from workers as they could. Yu, the volunteer worker told WKNews that, a dormitory in Hong Kong charges $30-50 per bed per night. If the worker is hired under the same agency, she would be charged for $20 per night. "Which means, even the workers directly hired by the company also have to pay for accommodations.", said Yu.

If an employer do not want his domestic migrant worker to stay at home due to various reasons (for eample, he has to leave Hong Kong for a period of time, or the elderly to be taking cared of passed away), he could put his worker in the dormitory and the agency would charge the employer directly.

To squeeze more money from workers, the dormitory charges $5 per hour for charging the phone battery, and $8-10 per hour for using computers.

Over pricing.Forced Labour.Excessive agency fee

Such overcharging is equally serious in Indonesian training center. According to Eki, the workers need a lot of snacks because the center does not provide enough food. Once again, the only way the confined workers can get snack is from the center. Taking advantage of being the sole supplier, the center charges double price. For example, a chips priced IDR 2000 (around HKD 1.18) is charged IDR 4000 in the center.

Read the original article in full: Elis died of slave-like life in agency center | WKNews

Source: WKNews

Story Type: News

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