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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid