Lockdowns did not slow us down in 2021. Although we have a lot to be proud of this year, these five stand above the rest. Here they are in no particular order:
Over 2021, we have closed one third of our caseload while under lockdown, amounting to years of local salary in compensations. In partnership with pro bono lawyers from firms across the region, we have helped our clients secure compensation for a wide range of issues. These include illegal agency fees, unpaid termination entitlements and sexual abuse, to name a few.
One of our Hong Kong cases was particularly high profile, involving Mary (pseudonym), a domestic worker who died just four months after she arrived in Hong Kong from the Philippines. The plaintiff, Mary’s sister, claimed that Mary had complained about inhumane treatment by her employer just days before she passed away. Sadly, forensic examination found no medical reason for Mary’s death. The sister and her family were mired in sorrow and perplexed about what happened. In 2019, the sister came to Hong Kong to seek justice, and with the assistance of JWB, requested for a death inquest, which was granted. You can read more details here.
While this case was both tragic and unusual, it highlights the broad range of issues we take on in helping workers and their families seek justice. This year, we overcame movement restrictions across the region to successfully close a third of our case load, all resulting in compensation. We would like to sincerely thank all of our pro bono lawyers who partner with us in helping those in need seek justice, even after returning home.
One other highlight which many of you may be familiar with is how we helped our client get the right to be heard in Hong Kong courts via a video link from the Philippines. This year we expanded on this success by securing our very first video link trial in Singapore.
Lockdown conditions across the region made video link essential for one client, Nisa (pseudonym), in Indonesia. Braving travel restrictions across Java, she made her way nearly twelve hours from her home to Jakarta to appear on screen at court in Singapore. Video link support came from our Indonesian law firm partner, Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung (in association with Herbert Smith Freehills). Nisa’s trial has concluded and judgement is now pending.
Video link is the wave of the future, and absolutely essential to many vulnerable workers pursuing their claims. Flying from one’s home country to a court overseas has always been far too expensive for most migrant workers, and Covid-19 conditions make the trip close to impossible. By turning the extraordinary of video link into the ordinary for migrant workers, we can ensure that more workers get their day in court…while holding more bad actors accountable.
With victories in two major cities in the region under our belts, we are now pulling together our learnings to share with others. More video link cases can help pave the way for more efficient, effective, and affordable access to justice for workers, wherever they happen to be.
We truly believe that it takes a community (a very large community!) to make access to justice possible across borders. Our goal has always been to pioneer cross-border claims, and then have as many partners as possible take up our work with us. Making that a reality means turning partners into fellow experts, who together can help far more people than we can alone.
Despite year 2 of the pandemic, we continued our sharing with successful long-term mentorships in Indonesia and Hong Kong.
In Indonesia, we’ve brought together 7 non-profits from across the country, guiding them through 15 workshops around cross-border litigation, migrant domestic worker rights in Hong Kong and in Singapore, paralegal skills and safe migration. Together, we discussed more than 35 cases, with mentees sharing what they’ve learned in the programme so far to many more fellow caseworkers at each of their organizations.
We wrapped a successful second cohort in Hong Kong, with migrant worker union leaders now heading out into the field to apply their new skills for workers in need.
More on our FADWU program in Hong Kong and our Indonesia initiative, Program AKSES, can be found on our website.
Being stuck at home has actually brought us closer together online. Over the course of 2021, we’ve partnered with six new Indonesian organisations – Pertakina, Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI), KPI Jawa Timur, KPI Jawa Barat, Fatayat and Seruni – to collaborate on transnational casework and capacity building programs.
These frontline organizations are all from different backgrounds – religious based, women rights focused and worker unions. They help us reach more migrant workers from parts of Indonesia where many workers are sent to Singapore and Hong Kong.
These partnerships strengthen our capability of working on cross-border cases, building capacity for paralegals and raising awareness to communities. Just this year, these partners have already transferred knowledge and experiences on cross boarder litigation and migrant worker rights in Hong Kong and Singapore to hundreds of people, building a very strong foundation for amplifying impact within their community heading to 2022.
“Believe” was our public relations campaign aimed at migrant workers and their home communities in Indonesia. It aims to raise awareness that going home does not have to mean giving up when a worker has faced exploitation or abuse. That awareness can translate to action, with more workers coming forward who until have stayed silent.
Called #PercayaBersama (“believe together”), the campaign was first developed featuring a success case video, based on an actual case involving a migrant domestic worker in Singapore who faced abuse. The campaign was a huge success, garnering well over one million impressions across online and local print media.
We are now in the midst of launching the second instalment of #PercayaBersama, highlighting our first-ever mass-claim case, so watch this space!