Against recruitment fees for migrant domestic workers

From United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights, a press release accompanying a protest by Indonesian workers against the Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong:

…more than 350 Indonesian migrants trooped to the Indonesian Consulate from East Point Road in Causeway Bay to protest its continued indulgence of recruitment agencies in extorting exorbitant fees from Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong. The group also hit the policy of the Indonesian government of forcing them to go through recruitment agencies each time they process their contract in spite of the gross exploitation committed repeatedly by the agencies.

The protesters demanded that all Indonesian migrants in Hong Kong be allowed to process their contracts directly and to stop exorbitant fees charged by agencies.

“We are not only made to pay HK$21,000 when we first arrive in HK but we are overcharged repeatedly. To make matters worse, the Indonesian government has denied our right to direct hiring and the consulate has openly refused to help victims of exorbitant fees. When will the government genuinely protect us?” [Eni Lestari, coordinator of United Indonesians Against Overcharging] remarked.

She explained that the Indonesian government has institutionalized the HK$21,000 agency fee that should be paid by Indonesian migrants through five to seven months’ salary deduction. Furthermore, she reported that PILAR has received a lot of complaints from Indonesian migrants who are charged the same amount even if they process their contract while they are already here in Hong Kong. […]

Indah Soekesi worked in Hong Kong for eight years before she decided to go back to Indonesia. Five months later, she decided to apply to a recruitment agency in order to work in Hong Kong again. As she speaks fluent Chinese already, she was not required to undergo training with the recruitment agency and she stayed in her own house to wait for her new employer. However, when she arrived she was told that she needed to pay HK$21,000 or her job will be cancelled. After five months of paying the fees (HK$15,000 in total), she decided to stop paying. Since then she and her employer have been harassed by the agency and financing company. She approached the consulate for help but the staff said that they could not help because she signed a loan agreement.

Nurul Istikomah worked for three months before her contract was terminated and her last entitlements were taken by her agency. Despite her 14 days of visa, the agency just sent her back immediately to Indonesia and refused to help her find a new job. From the HK Airport, she run away and found her second agency where she was made to pay another four months (HK$12,000) for her second job. However her first agency still chased her and forced her family to pay the outstanding fees equivalent to three months salary (HK$9,000). Her father was hostaged by the recruitment agency in Indonesia when he refused to pay the money for his daughter.

In addition to being oppressive in and of themselves, these debt burdens serve as a further deterrent toward speaking up about other employment abuses. And as the examples quoted in the press release show, it is very doubtful that the fees constitute compensation for actual services rendered, so much as grossly disproportionate premiums squeezed out by unscrupulous middlemen on the slender grounds of their legally protected position in the labour market.

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