Rights group says domestic workers suffer ‘modern slavery’ in both SARs

Amnesty International has described the exploitation of domestic workers in Hong Kong and Macau as modern slavery, citing the workers’ vulnerability to overworking and being underpaid.

According to a report issued by Portuguese news agency Lusa, the human rights watchdog said that its investigation into the situation of these workers in both SARs revealed that in both cities, workers could be trapped in a cycle of exploitation that is equivalent to modern slavery.

Migrant workers in Macau have been calling for a standard contract and a minimum wage of MOP4,500 yet no response has emerged.

“Gaps in legal protection make it easier for employers to abuse workers, and harder for workers to get help,” the rights group said.

Echoing the sentiment, Jassy Santos, chairperson of the Progressive Labour Union explained that domestic workers are prone to abuse due to the absence of rights protection for them.

“I believe they have defined it as modern slavery because even when these workers have been working for long hours …if they are already tired, they cannot do anything but to continue working if the employer says so,” Santos told the Times.

“According to a survey we did, we found out there are a few domestic workers that work 17 to 18 hours a day,” she lamented.

Amnesty International also cited the lack of regulations for employment agencies in regards to placement fees, an issue which affects workers mainly from Indonesia.

The human rights watchdog said that agencies have been exploiting people in conditions of forced labor, putting them in positions where they are “compelled to work in situations that violate their human rights.”

The organization also cited the confiscation of identity documents and restrictions of movement as grounds for a definition of modern slavery.

According to Santos, the report creates a negative image for the city, as the government continuously turns a blind eye to the situation of these workers.

“The government does not acknowledge that domestic workers can contribute to the economy. This type of work is not easy; we are also human beings, not machines,” she said, adding, “what we need is for them to acknowledge that there are a number of domestic workers whose employers treat them like machines. We need them to at least listen that we also need to be protected by law.”

Santos noted that Hong Kong’s law on domestic workers is better

“What happens here is that when we complain about abusive situations, they [the employers] will just send you back home,” said Santos.

Migrant worker rights advocates held dialogues with the Labor Affairs Bureau back in February, calling for an establishment of a minimum wage of at least MOP4,500, along with an increase of housing allowance and an eight-hour work day.

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