Helping the Helpers
The case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a former Indonesian domestic helper who was abused physically by her employer, caused a stir in Hong Kong in 2014. The incident exposed the vulnerability of some 352,000 foreign domestic helpers in this affluent city.
When facing exploitation by employers or employment agencies, many of them dare not come forward to report for fear of losing their jobs. Having no one to turn to, they can only swallow their grievances.
To advance the rights of migrant workers, Mr. David Bishop, Principal Lecturer in HKU Business School, launched the Migrant Worker Advancement project in 2015. The lecturer and his team partnered with governments, social entrepreneurs and labor unions to address long-standing employment problems that these workers face. In an effort to advocate ethical behavior in the industry, Mr. Bishop co-founded the Fair Employment Agency (FEA), a non-profit agency that helps migrant workers find employers in an ethical and transparent way.
Mr. Bishop also spares no efforts in bringing transparency to the Hong Kong employment agency (EA) industry. In 2016, he and his team created Migrasia, Hong Kong’s first online platform that allows both domestic workers and employers to rate on local employment agencies. Multiple educational videos and content have also been created and shared to help employers and workers understand their rights. The team also partnered with a number of external organisations and government to establish standards for proper and ethical agency behavior.
Mr. Bishop’s recent KE project,Enhanced Employment Agency Enforcement: A step towards eliminating one of HK’s largest black-market industries, successfully lobbied the Hong Kong government to amend the regulations of the EA industry, particularly extending the statutory time limit for prosecution of abuses. On February 9, 2018, the Government announced that the statutory time limit for prosecution of overcharging commission from job-seekers and the unlicensed operation of employment agencies is extended from six months to 12 month, offering more protection to job-seekers, especially for foreign domestic helpers who often suffer from overcharges and unscrupulous recruitment practices. In addition, the project team also investigated several cases of agency illegality with HKU students, resulting in numerous media reports and criminal prosecutions.