News / Asia

Indonesian Migrant Workers at Mercy of Loan Sharks

Indonesian migrant workers protest outside the Consulate General Indonesia in Hong KongCheck on May 6, 2007.
Indonesian migrant workers protest outside the Consulate General Indonesia in Hong KongCheck on May 6, 2007.
Sara Schonhardt
Domestic workers from Indonesia have long battled abuse and exploitation.

In Hong Kong, the government has responded with protective labor measures mandating one day off a week and a minimum wage. But even there, migrant workers are increasingly falling prey to predatory moneylenders who can end up taking most of their salaries.
 
Every Sunday, Hong Kong’s Victoria Park fills with thousands of domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines. During their one day off a week, they gather for picnics, make handicrafts and share stories.
 
Anni Hamidah, a helper from Surabaya, arrived in Hong Kong in 2010 expecting to work for one family but ended up working for three. Anni cared for seven people and a baby.  She said although the job was not as advertised, she would have been terminated if she complained to her agency.

Agency loans

Although Anni’s story is not unusual, advocacy groups say the most common problem for overseas domestic workers is a predatory lending system that puts women in debt, even before they start working. Before leaving Indonesia, the women sign contracts with employment agencies that charge for training and placement. A loan agreement is almost always part of the contract, said Holly Allan, who manages the group Helpers for Domestic Helpers.
 
“Because most them, they don’t have the cash to pay, so 99 percent of them are referred to loan companies or they’re just made to sign loan agreements in the office of the agency," said Allan. "It’s the agency that facilitates everything and they just sign and sign without knowing what they’re signing.”

With monthly minimum wages set at less than $520, that leaves women with as little as $50 a month for food and living expenses. Out of fear, these women usually sign a receipt that says they have received their full salary.

Given such intimidation, it’s hard to provide evidence of these practices, especially when some of the expenses are legitimate.

Indonesia allows agencies to charge expenses and receive commissions for teaching prospective domestic workers how to clean, cook and speak Cantonese before they leave for Hong Kong.
 
The government recently capped those fees at around $1,900. The law also says agencies can only charge commissions of 10 percent of one month’s salary.

Vicious cycle
 
But moneylenders can and do charge interest rates as high as 60 percent on the loans women take out to pay back their debts. Allan said the typical loan for those coming from Indonesia is $2,700. Allan faults moneylenders for allowing employment agencies to get around laws meant to protect domestic workers.

The practice is so profitable employment agencies try to perpetuate their business by getting workers terminated after they’ve paid off their loans, Allan said.
 
“It’s just a vicious cycle, and we’ve had clients who work in Hong Kong for three years without making any money because each time she has paid the loan, she gets terminated and transferred to another employer and she pays again and then transferred to another, so they’re just fleecing them."
 
Marsini, who comes from East Java and works for a local family in Wanchai, said sometimes the agents pressure employers to seek new help, or employers do not pay the helpers their full salaries, knowing they have little recourse.
 
She said if she complains to her agency, she will be fired and will have to look for another employer. That means a whole new set of agency fees, said Marsini.

Despite a growing number of complaints about overcharging by employment agencies, few firms have been sanctioned. A recent report by Bloomberg news noted that of more than 80 complaints registered with Hong Kong’s Labor Department since 2011, only two employment agencies have been found in violation of the law.

Hong Kong is generally seen as a better country for domestic workers than Malaysia or Saudi Arabia because of laws meant to protect women. But Allan saod agencies know how to circumvent the law and there is no political will on the part of the Hong Kong government and the home country government to really crack down on them.
 
Michael Tene, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta, said the government continuously monitors the way these agencies behave.
 
“Certainly, if we have information about behavior which is contrary to the spirit as well as the letter of their function, then certainly we will take the necessary measures to rectify that," he said.

Human trafficking?

Anni, the worker from Surabaya, said what is happening to the women in Hong Kong is like human trafficking. They work without pay and their employers hold their passports. That said, women continue to arrive drawn by the possibility of a better income.
 
Her eyes wet with fresh tears, Anni said if there were jobs in Indonesia, she would not be here.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs