Amnesty International’s quarterly magazine for the spring is all about migrant workers in Hong Kong. Here is the link to it where you can read more about what it’s like to be a migrant worker: http://www.issuu.com/aihk/docs/aihk_humanrights_06
My office has been working on a primer (or informational booklet) that discusses the Hong Kong government’s live-in policy for domestic workers. The policy was enacted in 2003 and states that a domestic worker must live in the same residence as their employer. We surveyed thousands of domestic workers to ask them about how they viewed the policy and how it has impacted their lives. You can read our research on our website here: http://www.migrants.net/home/live-in-policy-primer-is-online-now/
Yesterday, Katie and I were interviewed by a writer for the South China Morning Post about our involvement at the May Day rally. We marched with around 1,000 domestic workers as part of the larger march. All in all there were probably around 5,000 workers from construction workers to teachers. Here’s the link to the article (although the South China Morning Post might ask you to register to read it):
Some of you may have noticed already but I now have a flickr account. I’ll be posting all my pictures over there so I would love for all of you to check it out. You can just click on the link under the “My Photo Journey” section. Since I’m so bad at updating you all with words about what’s going on here, this is a way for me to at least visually show you my adventures.
Hello everyone! Sorry for not updating this sooner but I honestly have no idea where December went. I started out the month with my return from the Philippines. I was there for ten days working with the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants on the International Migrants’ Tribunal. For those of you who are interested in reading about the Tribunal, here is their official website: http://internationalmigrantstribunal.wordpress.com/
Sadly, because of the amount of work we were doing, I couldn’t see much of the Philippines beyond Metro Manila and the conference hall.
When we got back, I ended up with a really bad case of strep throat that kept me in bed for over a week. Now, I usually don’t go to a doctor when I get sick because I’m usually feeling healthy again within a few days. But this was kicking my butt and warranted medicine stronger than what the local grocery store was providing. I went to my local Chinese pharmacy, whispered my symptoms (since that was the loudest I could speak), and received some Chinese antibiotics. I can now say that the Chinese pharmaceutical companies have found a way to capture magic and sell it in medicinal capsules. I started feeling better about twelve hours after taking my first dosage. Needless to say, I’m back in full health now.
The middle of December began my integration with a migrant organization. On Sundays, migrant organizations here in Hong Kong gather together to raise awareness of the issues facing migrant workers such as the laws against illegal agency fees or government policies being implemented in their home countries. The organization that I’ve joined is called LIKHA which is a Filipino cultural organization. This means that they do many dances and performances as a form of expression. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about joining. I can’t dance at all and so am concerned about how much I’ll be able to contribute to the group.
My first Sunday with LIKHA was the 23rd where we participated in the Parol Making Competition. Parol means lantern. The Parol Making Competition started in 2005 and became a way to express concerns about environmental degradation and the impact of climate change. Each parol is made of everyday items that have been thrown out. Each organization that participates has a limited amount of time (usually around a week) to gather materials and construct a parol which tends to be in the shape of a star. We paraded all the different parols around Chater Road (a strip of road in Central, Hong Kong where the Filipino migrants gather on Sundays) before each one was judged to determine the winner and runner ups. Below are pictures of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place parols.
The year came to a close with Christmas and New Year’s parties with the women at Bethune House (the shelter run by the Mission). Lots of smiles and laughs were exchanged with karaoke being sung in the background. Overall, it was a great way to end the year and welcome the one to come.
American holidays in Hong Kong are very strange. Before I came here I had mentally prepared myself for a lack of holiday festivities and just a general indifference towards the holidays that I love (Halloween and Christmas in particular). So I was quite surprised to realize that they do celebrate these holidays in Hong Kong. In October, it was very easy to find Halloween decorations. Thanksgiving turkeys are in stores now, just waiting to be bought. The Christmas season has already begun, with stores setting up Santas and Christmas trees. Overall, it doesn’t really feel that much different than living in the States.
Which is why it is so peculiar to me. The people of Hong Kong have no real religious, cultural, or traditional ties to any of these three holidays and yet they are celebrated. Although, I suppose “celebrated” isn’t quite accurate. A more apt description might be “observed and respected” on behalf of the many ex-pats here. And so, because of this I get to enjoy the holidays I love so much while being miles and miles away from home.
But that also means I have to combat the differences between the States and Hong Kong. One such difference came when Katie and I were cooking for our Thanksgiving get-together. Turkey in Hong Kong is really, really expensive and so we decided to buy a chicken instead. But this chicken was a Chinese chicken. Now some of you might be wondering what exactly the difference is between a Chinese chicken and an American chicken. In terms of taste and size, there is no difference. But a Chinese chicken comes with the head and feet still attached.
Katie and I weren’t quite sure what to do about this development. We debated for a bit about whether or not we just wanted to leave these extra pieces on. Either option (cooking the chicken with the head and feet or cutting them off) was going to be strange and something that neither of us had done before. It just became a matter of which would we prefer.
In the end, we decided to cut off the head and feet, making this one of the weirdest cooking experiences of my life.
Wow, it’s been over a month since I updated. I’m really bad at this whole blog thing. Since I’ve been in Hong Kong for over two months now I guess it’s a little inexcusable that I haven’t talked about my work yet.
Well, I’m a case officer for the Mission for Migrant Workers. The Mission helps migrant workers who are in crisis. Usually our clients are domestic workers who have been terminated by their employers and haven’t been paid their full wages or helping them when their placement agencies charge them illegal fees. The main part of my job is taking on clients and assisting them with their meetings with Labor and the Philippine Consulate.
When dealing with issues involving employers, we will file at Labor here in Hong Kong. Labor will set up a Conciliation meeting between the client and the employer to see if a settlement can be reached without taking the situation to Labor Tribunal. Sometimes employers are very open to negotiation and will pay the client the full amount (or very close to it) that they are owed at this meeting. But other times, the employer will try to get the client to settle for a lot less. An example is when the client is owed around HK$18,000 and the employer will try to only pay HK$5,000. If this happens then we will take the case up to Labor Tribunal which is the first stage of court. A presiding officer will hear the case and will give their opinion on the evidence presented. This opinion gives the client and the employer an idea of what the court will judge the case on. At this hearing they have the opportunity to negotiate again before it is taken further up in court. So far, I’ve only gotten this far in the Labor proceedings. My clients have been able to reach a settlement by this stage.
When dealing with agencies, we have meetings with the Philippine Consulate. It’s illegal, according to Philippine Law, for placement agencies to charge clients any fees. The placement, medical, training, etc fees are covered by the employers rather than by the domestic workers. But even though it is illegal, many placement agencies will still charge the clients these fees. And so, when they come to our office we will write a referral letter to the Consulate to try and get their money back. The Consulate will then schedule a meeting between the client and the agency. Ideally at this meeting, the agency will refund the money that the client paid. If they don’t agree to that, then the client can file at the Philippine Overseas Employment Association (POEA) to get the agency to refund this money.
That’s a real quick summary about the work I do on a typical day here. It’s a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, it is very frustrating and appalling hearing about the treatment that some employers have inflicted upon the clients. There’s anger when employers try to give nothing even when they owe the client a lot. But then there is also great joy when the client succeeds in claiming everything (or very close to it) that they are entitled to.
If you want to know more about what the Mission is doing, check out our website: http://www.migrants.net