The president of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU), Yosa Wariyanti, has said that the challenges faced by an Indonesian migrant worker called Putri during her move to Hong Kong in search of work, is similar to many more cases that go unreported.
As revealed in an interview with the Times earlier this week, Putri’s story, though not unique, sheds light onto the shady world of migrant worker agencies in the SARs. Her travels took her to Macau, where she waited for several weeks to acquire the necessary documents for Hong Kong.
Wariyanti said that the local association is aware of a high number of cases involving Indonesian nationals seeking work in Macau and Hong Kong, noting that similar situations exist in other jurisdictions such as mainland China and Singapore.
In response to a question by the Times regarding how many such cases there are of migrant workers being forced to work several months without salary or being able to retain only a small proportion of it due to exorbitant employment agency fees or commissions, Wariyanti said, “I can’t even count how many cases just in the last year. There are too many.”
According to Wariyanti, she has been involved in several cases presented by new members of the association in just the last two days, including three people who had to leave Macau. According to the leader of the association, the number of cases is “still growing every year,” but the reality has never been addressed.
“The cases occur with those migrant workers who do not come to Macau by their own means and make use of employment brokers or agencies from Indonesia,” she said. “The deductions from the wages are usually rationalized [by the agents] as to cover expenses such as airfares and accommodation [for the time the workers are waiting for their work permits].”
As Putri before, Wariyanti also notes that most of these workers are “forced” to pay for such services in advance to the local brokers in Indonesia. However, it is hard to tell what sum is involved, how payments are made, and what amounts are owed to the agents, as these are never explained or given to the worker via any official document.
Wariyanti said, “I think the amounts that agencies charge by deducting from workers’ salaries is just too much, [sometimes reaching] as much as MOP3,000 per month and for a period of six to nine months.”
“Sometimes, the worker still needs to add more [to these payments], if they change employer or if anything happens. [Agencies] often find reasons to add one or two months more salary deductions.”
She said that the problem is exacerbated by the lack of information migrant workers have about their rights and how things work in each jurisdiction. Education in these matters is a difficult task, she admits, even when migrants are already in Macau and are aware of the existence of the association.
People don’t like to attend seminars on the rules of Macau or their rights as employees, Wariyanti told the Times. “They often only seek us out when they are already in difficulty and sometimes it is too late for us to be able to provide any help.”
“I have been trying a different approach to pass information online via our Facebook page,” said Wariyanti. “It reaches more people and it’s easier to access from anywhere.”
Questioned on whether IMWU had been contacted to provide an opinion to the Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly (AL), which is discussing a bill that will amend the law for the hiring of non-resident workers, Wariyanti said, “No. We never got an invitation to discuss this topic from anyone.”
Early last month, the President of the Third Standing Committee of the AL, Vong Hin Fai, said that the Committee would hear from the six non-resident associations that submitted a joint petition in the first week of June expressing concerns over this law, as long as they “really existed,” noting that the AL Public Relations Office was not assured of the legal status of these associations.
“We have received the petitions and we will treat them accordingly,” he said. “[It is the] understanding of the committee members that we should hear what these people have to say on the topic, but first, we need to verify if these people are interested and if they are representing [legally-registered] organizations in Macau and if they are really doing some work here.”