SCMP Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Court victories encourage more assault victims to come forward


Domestic helpers are more willing to report violence by employers because recent court cases have proved justice can be served, groups representing overseas workers said yesterday.
Some groups claimed the rate of attacks may be rising, but others said they could not substantiate such a claim. They did agree, however, that more migrant workers were increasingly inclined to file complaints.
This could also be attributed to a corresponding improvement in awareness, said Eman Villanueva, United Filipinos in Hong Kong secretary-general.
"With the publicity that is given to these cases, abused maids know they will be believed, they have won court battles which has encouraged many to receive justice and speaks volumes about the justice system in Hong Kong," said Mr Villanueva. An education campaign had also helped maids become aware of their rights.
"I do not think we can say the rate of violence is increasing, it's hard for us to substantiate that claim. But what we can say is more migrant workers are coming out to file complaints against employers, especially Indonesians.
"Before it was Filipinos because they are more organised, most are members of an association and because of this most of them are aware of their rights.
"Now we have been able to assist our Indonesian friends to organise their own organisation."
Mr Villanueva called for a blacklist of violent employers or those who tried to avoid paying entitlements.
Bethune House refuge director Edwina Santoyo said the publicity had buoyed maids who were once reluctant to come forward. But she said she had perceived an increase in the number of maids who had been physically assaulted seeking shelter at the refuge, which was now full with 30 women.
"Their employers can always say, 'I can replace you any time'," Ms Santoyo said. "They really need their jobs so it's a case of put up or shut up."
Ms Santoyo said the number of assaults may have risen because the number of migrant workers had increased.
In the last three to four years, the number of Filipino maids has increased from fewer than 100,000 to 160,000. In the same period, Indonesian helpers rose from 5,000 to 60,000.
Deloris Dayao, a helper with the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers, said she thought more employers were assaulting their maids. "Perhaps [with the economic downturn] more employers have financial problems and that puts pressure on them to hit out," she said.