HK Labor Department probes abuse of Filipino migrant worker

Gina Ordona, Daisy Cl Mandap
Uychiat's case reinforces the claim that slavery of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong is the rule, rather than the exception

Rowena T. Uychiat, a 37-year-old widow and mother of two from Bacolod, is claiming to have been physically abused by her employer

HONG KONG – In a rare move, the Department of Labor in Hong Kong is reportedly set to prosecute the employer of a Filipina domestic worker who has sought help for alleged abuse.

Rowena T. Uychiat, a 37-year-old widow and mother of two from Bacolod, is claiming to have been physically abused by her employer, who also prevented her from taking any day off during her 9-month employment. 

Uychiat also said her salary was not paid on time, and that she was allowed to sleep for only 3 hours at night, among other things.

According to Edwina Antonio, case worker for the Mission for Migrant Workers, the Labor Department has indicated it will prosecute the employer under the Employment Ordinance. Uychiat has been asked to testify against the employer. 

Antonio said that the move was taken after the Mission, on the advice of its counsel, rejected a suggestion that a conciliation meeting be held between Uychiat and her employer. 

“It is a criminal case, so it should not be subject to a settlement between the worker and her employer,” she said. 

However, formal charges have yet to be filed against the Canadian-Chinese employer who has been investigated by the police but was released on bail. 

The Consulate, meanwhile, has added the employer to its blacklist of employers, meaning, she will not be able to hire any Filipino domestic worker in the meantime. 

“We will not take her name off the list unless she is absolved of any wrongdoing,” said Labor Attaché Manuel Roldan. 

Vice Consul Charles Macaspac and his team at the assistance to nationals section have also visited Uychiat at the shelter where she’s staying, and promised help. 

Macaspac said they will continue to monitor the case. 

“I would like to call on our nationals to inform us immediately if something like this happens to them, or if it happens to somebody close to them,” he said. 

At a news conference held on May 8, Uychiat could not stop herself from tearing up as she narrated her ordeal. 

“I am now in front of you because I want justice for myself,” she said. 

She claimed that she had been repeatedly beaten with a wooden stick as well as slapped, kicked and had her hair pulled by her employer. She also said that her employer would constantly yell, and call her stupid. 

She said her employer who lives in Yau Yat Tsuen, forced her to work up to 21 hours every day, from 6 am to 3 am. 

Before leaving the Philippines, Uychiat said she paid P50,000 to her recruitment agency. But she was reportedly told that she needed to pay more during her first few months in Hong Kong, although this did not happen as she was not allowed to leave her employer’s place on her own. 

In the entire 9 months that she worked for the employer, she claimed to have not been given a rest day. Her documents, including her passport and employment contract, had been confiscated. 

She was told to apply for a HKID, but was not allowed to go back to immigration to claim it. 

She allegedly got the chance to escape when the family went to Macau last month. She called up a relative, who happens to be a client of the Mission, and sought help. 

The Mission’s general manager Cynthia Tellez said they immediately instructed Uychiat to leave her employer’s residence, then picked her up and took her to a temporary shelter. 

Tellez said that case has already been reported to the police for criminal offense and they are also working on pressing civil case against the employer for compensation. 

Eman Villanueva, spokesperson of Justice for Erwiana and All Migrant Domestic Workers Committee, said Uychiat’s case reinforces their claim that slavery of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong is the rule, rather than the exception. 

He claims that bad policies such as the two-week rule, the mandatory live-in arrangement, and the weak regulation on recruitment and finance could actually make FDHs [foreign domestic helpers] vulnerable to abuse. 

“A bad employer could abuse one, two, 5 or 10 migrant workers; but a bad policy will affect all migrant workers,” he said. 

He criticized secretary for labor and welfare Matthew Cheung for defending the policies and even rehashing the claim that these policies are a deterrent against job-hopping. 

Uychiat’s is one of the worst abuse cases to have surfaced, following that of Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih in January. –

This article was first published in The Sun Hong Kong. Rappler is republishing this with permission. The author is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.

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