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Indonesian leader faces migrant rally in Hong Kong

Domestic workers were barred from delivering a petition to President Joko Widodo

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

Published: May 03, 2017 07:49 AM GMT

Updated: May 03, 2017 07:50 AM GMT

Indonesian leader faces migrant rally in Hong Kong

Indonesian migrant workers demand prosecution of employment agencies that confiscate their passports when President of Indonesia Joko Widodo arrived in Hong Kong for a working visit on April 30. (Photo courtesy of Indonesia Migrant Workers Union)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo was greeted in Hong Kong by a May Day rally of more than 1,000 migrant workers, mostly domestic helpers from Indonesia.

An NGO alliance for migrant workers organized the protest on Labor Day to express their concerns after they were blocked from appealing to Widodo at a forum for 5,000 Indonesians in Hong Kong, on April 30.

Sringatin, chairperson of the Indonesia Migrant Workers Union, told ucanews.com that they told the consulate before the president's visit they wanted to deliver a joint petition from 70 migrant groups by hand. "But the security guards in the venue stopped us from doing so," she said.

"We rallied to demand the two governments take action against the illegal practice of withholding migrant's passports," said Sringatin.

"Though migrant workers can lodge complaints with the Labor Bureau, their office is only open on weekdays and the workers only have Sunday off," she told ucanews.com, adding that most migrants are not allowed to take leave in their first six months as they have to repay debts to employment agencies.

"Without passports to identify them, the Labor Bureau refuses to file their cases. These are problems that need to be solved by both governments," Sringatin said.


Migrant workers in Hong Kong holding coffin-shape banners to demand protection of their labor rights when they took their issue to street on May 1. (Photo courtesy of Indonesia Migrant Workers Union)


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Employment agencies withhold migrant's passports to prevent them from sneaking away without repaying their fees. Some local employers turn a blind eye so workers are left helpless and cannot leave even if they are abused.

The plight of migrant workers made headlines in 2014 when Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was beaten and starved by her employer, who received a six-year jail term eventually.

During his April 30-May 1 visit, Widodo met with C.Y. Leung and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, outgoing and incoming Chief Executives of Hong Kong respectively, major government officials and business leaders.

Leung and Widodo witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cultural co-operation. They also signed a joint statement on labor co-operation to underline a "commitment to protecting" Indonesian helpers in Hong Kong.

There are about 358,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong working at a minimum wage of HK$4,310 (US$550) a month. The two largest groups are 170,000 workers from the Philippines and 150,000 from Indonesia, followed by Thais and smaller groups from Nepal and Sri Lanka.

By September, the first batch of 1,000 Cambodia helpers will also join the labor market. The long-term goal is to have 10,000 workers come each year to cope with Hong Kong's aging society.

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