In the middle of the night, Sasongko Wati had to walked alone to find a bus stop. She tried to keep calm while was carrying her few belongings. “Just be calm. You need to go to the shelter now. Sister May will come and pick you at the bus stop,” said her friend Yani.
It is difficult to remain calm when you are suddenly expelled by your employer in the middle of the night, far away from her home country. Luckily for Wati, who joined a migrant workers’ union in Hong Kong, she knew what should to be done when faced with a crisis situation. “The first thing that came to my mind was to call Yani and other union friends,” narrated Wati.
It was on May 12, 2018, Saturday, around 11 pm, when Wati was expelled by her employer, as she did not want to sign the self-resignation statement. The issue began when Wati was asking to take leave for Indonesia, which she had raised to her employer since February of 2018.
“Last February, I was offered to renew my contract, since my contract will be finished in the coming December,” said Wati. “I answered yes, and said would like to continue the job. I also asked to take a leave, as my employer offered me the renewal.”
Wati planned to go back to her home country to see her daughter’s graduation scheduled for August 2018. The employer initially agreed with Wati’s request, and even offered her to take one full month of leave.
When Wati was asking her employer again about her request on that Saturday night, her employer suddenly changed her mind, and Wati was not allowed to take leave. “My employer refused my request and denied giving promise to allow me one month leave.”
She went to the kitchen and her employer approached and offered her only two weeks leave. For Wati, two-week leave is more than enough to at least to see her daughter again after being far away for one year.
Wati surmises that the reason behind her employer not allowing her to take leave is that she is afraid Wati will not return to Hong Kong. In order to make sure Wati comes back, her employer then asked her to make a written statement.
“As the employer asked me to do that, I wrote a statement according to her concern, that I will come back to Hong Kong after taking leave and agree to pay my own expenses to Indonesia.”
However the written statement was not accepted by her employer. Instead, her employer wanted the content of the letter to be a resignation letter. Wati never intended to resign, she insisted only take a leave and will continue to work with her employer.
Her employer then got angry with the statement written by Wati and asked her to leave her employer’s house. “Now you go! Clean up all your stuff!” said Wati, repeating her employer’s words.
“At around 11 pm I was expelled from the house, after I cleared all of my belongings. At the time I was only carrying 100 HKD which was only enough for transportation. I also have not received my last salary yet.”
Mode of Dismissal of Migrant Workers
According to Yani, one of the mode of dismissal is by forcing workers to sign resignation letter to avoid the employer’s obligation to pay long service payment. “If the workers resigns, then the employer is exempted from the obligation to pay long service payment,” said Yani as one of the migrant workers union’s officers of Oi Merah Putih.
A workers is entitled long service payment if she has been working for at least 5 years continuously with the same employer. The terms also applied if a worker is dismissed or her contract is not renewed. The long service payment is calculated with a formula (Monthly wages x 2/3) x years of service. In the Your Right as Foreign Domestic Workers in Hong Kong pamphlet published by Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), a worker is entitle to long service payment, as stipulated in the Employment Ordinance.
In Wati’s case, she is entitled to long service payment of amount 15,582 HKD according to the formula, which is (4,410 x 2/3) x 5 years 4 months.
Wati is also entitled to other compensation, such unpaid salary, untaken annual leave payment, one extra month’s wages of termination without notice, returning flight and 100 HKD of travel allowance.
Yani assumed that the changing of Wati’s employers’s decision stems from the suggestion made by the employment agency. When Wati gave her writing to her employer, her employer took the photo of her writing and sent it to the agent. “My writing was ripped off because according to the agent, my writing was incorrect which should be stating about resignation,” said Wati.
When workers who resigns, according to Yani, not only is the employer exempted from giving the long service payment, the employment agency will also have an opportunity to offer new domestic workers to the employer.
Migrant Workers and the Organizing of Migrant in Hong Kong
My story and my experience working in Hong Kong is not as sweet as my Facebook’s status
Wati has been working as migrant workers for 18 years. The first time she went to Hong Kong was in 1999 when she was only 23 years old. Wati stopped working as migrant workers for 3 years, and decided to return in 2008 until present.
Wati is one of the 154,738 Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong (AHKA, 2017). Among the numbers, minority are the migrant workers, who in the very young age, decided to work overseas. More often than not, the migrant workers are forced to leave their child in the age of breastfeeding.
“The first time I arrived in Hong Kong when I was 23 years old, only two years after my daughter was born,” said Wati who is now 44 years old. “My daughter was cared for by my parents. Once I went back to my home country when my daughter was still little, I was very sad to see my daughter was very thin and looked like was not well taken care of.”
The same story also experienced by Yani. When she first time went to work in Taiwan, her son also was in the age of breastfeeding. “When I was in the plane, my shirt was wet because of breast milk,” said Yani.
One of the survival mechanism for migrant workers is to join an organization. In Hong Kong, there are hundreds of migrant workers organization, whether in the form of union or community, such fans club community. Although not all of the workers’ organization take form of union, they are under the same umbrella that is Jaringan Buruh Migran Indonesia (JBMI) or Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Network.
Wati herself is a member of Oi Merah Putih, a fansclub of popular singer Iwan Fals in Hong Kong. Although it took form of fans club community, Oi Merah Putih is actively raising and advocating issues of migrant workers. Oi Merah Putih also part of the Mover, a posts managed by migrant workers for migrant workers’ themselves to document their complaints or to get information.
By being member of organization, migrant workers could develop a sense of solidarity and help each other. “I learned from one of my friend who had similar experience like me. At the time, my friend contacted her family and being directed to contact agent, because she did not know where to go and who she can ask for a help. The situation might be different if had she joined an organization,” said Wati.
Some of the local organization in Hong Kong that puts a concern to the migrant workers have a shelter for migrant workers who experience a labor case. One of the shelter is managed by Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW). In the MFMW shelter, workers are protected and facilitated to solve their own case.
Shelters and non-governmental organization (NGO) are playing important roles in the situation where General Consulate of Indonesian in Hong Kong does not protect migrant workers.
“When I was filing an overcharging case, the KJRI’s staff gave me a voting form for the coming election,” said Yani. “According to that staff, the form should be prioritized rather than cases of the migrant workers.”