Justice Without Borders (JWB) has achieved its first ever disability discrimination settlement in Hong Kong, in relation to Amy (pseudonym), a Migrant Domestic Worker (MDW). This victory, achieved in mid 2019, is another important milestone in our efforts to secure access to justice against the full range of exploitation or abuse that migrant workers may face.
Whilst working for her employer in 2017, Amy found that she had breast cancer. Despite the hardship she had to go through to fight cancer, Amy stood strong and was determined to work until the end of her contract. Yet, for her, there were still many challenges she had to overcome.
Sudden Termination from New Employer
After the contract with her former employer expired, Amy returned home to the Philippines while waiting to begin a new contract as a MDW with another employer. While waiting for the results of the usual medical examination, which is a requirement for MDWs to undergo before starting any new employment, she received a call from her employment agency asking if she had undergone any operation recently. Amy shared news of her breast surgery, her once-a-day medication routine and periodic check-up appointments. Nevertheless, she reassured her agency that she was fit for work, since she was already working full-time in the Philippines while waiting for her new work visa to be processed.
Just days after Amy had told the agency about her medical history, her worst fears were confirmed when she was told that her contract had been terminated.
Recovering from shock and injustice, Amy sought help from HELP for Domestic Workers (HELP), a frontline non-profit organisation for the migrant worker community in Hong Kong, who then referred her to JWB.
After understanding Amy’s case, JWB worked with HELP to prepare the necessary case documents to make a claim with the Labour Department in Hong Kong. A conciliation meeting was then arranged with Amy’s contracted employer to negotiate a settlement agreement, with JWB’s Head of Office, Justine Lam, in attendance.
When attending the conciliation meeting, Amy, like many migrant workers, was nervous and unfamiliar with the local laws and procedures. JWB helped propose amendments to the settlement offer, to protect her rights more fully and ensure that Amy’s expectations were properly communicated to the employer and the Conciliation Officer. Eventually, a settlement of certain of her claims was reached. She was also able to reserve her right to continue with other outstanding claims.
Turning the claim into another settlement
Because Amy believed that her (would-be) employer had not been honest in her reasons for terminating Amy’s contract, she decided to pursue her claim for full and just compensation.
At this stage, JWB brought in employment lawyers from Simmons & Simmons, JWB’s pro bono partner law firm, to advise and represent Amy. Working together, the team conducted an investigation, collected evidence and laid out a legal strategy that was presented to the Equal Opportunities Commission. This led to the parties coming to the table for a second conciliation meeting with Amy. Subsequently, a final agreement was reached that was fair to Amy and matched her expectations.
Giving Hope to Migrant Workers
At JWB, we believe that our clients should not experience injustice as a result of the power imbalances within an employer-employee relationship. We know that filing a claim can be time-consuming, intimidating and complicated. It is JWB’s mission to untangle the complexities and support our clients with legal assistance, especially in cases where they have to return to their home countries but still wish to pursue justice with cross-border claims.
This first-time disability discrimination settlement will set a precedent for us as an organisation when dealing with similar cases in the future. The support from our frontline NGO partners, lawyers and law firms, allows us to continue searching for the justice that our clients deserve. Likewise, the resilience, courage, and hard work of clients like Amy inspire us to keep moving forward.
“At our first meeting with Amy, she began to cry after being told that we were all there to help her. She did not think that there would be people who would care and be there to help her overcome what she faced.” – Nanor Wong, Legal Officer, Justice Without Borders, Hong Kong