Catching up with Josephine: Migrant domestic workers’ vulnerability and how JWB and their partners made a difference

May 4, 2022
Category: Partnerships

On this Labor Day, Justice Without Border (JWB) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), through Safe and Fair Programme, share Josephine’s story to raise awareness on the challenges women face in labor migration and the economic contributions they make, both at home and abroad. 

“I am really happy that there are organizations like JWB who help migrant domestic workers. They fight for our rights, for an ordinary person like me in Hong Kong,” said Josephine*, expressing her gratitude and joy as she recounted her experience in securing outstanding wages from her previous employer.

Josephine is one of JWB’s former clients. With persistence and with JWB’s regional legal network Josephine got justice and the money she worked so hard for. On this Labor Day, we got in touch with Josephine again to talk about the case and to catch up. Here is her story.

Losing salary earned overseas

“I need to work for my family and my son, especially as a single mother. I am the one who sends money back to my family and who finances my son’s education,” said Josephine, explaining why she came to Hong Kong to do domestic work. 

She actually came to Hong Kong twice. And it was during her second employment that her rights were violated. Her then-employer took Josephine with them to another country for a short while to work as a live-in caregiver for her employer’s child. Despite signing a new local employment contract with guaranteed salary and working hours, she was forced to work from 6am to 11pm every day, and without any time off or any wage payments.

As soon as Josephine returned to Hong Kong with her employer, she demanded full payment for the work she’d done overseas. Sadly, the employer refused to pay and even fired her for speaking up.

After being shown out of the house, Josephine tried in vain to seek help from the government authorities or to lodge a claim in a local labor tribunal.

“I went from here to there to seek help, but the authorities said the situation happened in another country, out of the boundary of Hong Kong laws, so there is nothing they can do.”

She was on the verge of giving up after countless rejections.

“I felt devastated and hopeless. I didn’t know what to do,” She added.

Legal and emotional support on the spot

Josephine’s case highlighted a gap in services for workers who are at risks and who had been exploited. Despite the incredible mobile nature of migrant workers, support for them is so often local and limited. 

After two years of searching, Josephine found friends who introduced her to HELP for Domestic Workers (HELP), one of JWB’s frontline partners who support Hong Kong’s migrant worker community. HELP later referred Josephine to JWB to pursue her unpaid wages earned overseas.

JWB worked with partner law firm Akin Gump to pursue Josephine’s claim both overseas and in Hong Kong. Together, the team helped Josephine take back her wages after just over one year—a very short time in the litigation world.

From success to lifelong learning 

To Josephine, this was not the end of the road to justice. “I am proud of myself that I did it! And I also learnt a lot. I learnt what my rights are as a migrant domestic worker.”

She has carried on her spirit of heartfelt gratitude by giving back to the community.

“After the case, I attended an organization and helped people who were new here, giving them advice and telling them to be strong.”

Talking about her next step in life, she looks forward to what the future holds while staying committed to lifelong learning.

“During my days off, I go to the library to study and attend online courses about elderly caretaking, as I want to be a caretaker in my home country or in other countries. But for now, I would still work as a domestic worker, because I need the money for my son who is going to college soon.”

In support of women migrant workers

Josephine’s story is just one from the many courageous women migrant workers who t who work to make better lives for themselves and their families. However, they are often vulnerable to exploitation, and often lack access to information about their rights, resources or where to go for help, especially after they return home. 

Founded in 2013, JWB is committed to advancing transnational access to justice for migrant workers. Most of JWB’s clients are women workers, and the work aligns with the Safe and Fair Programme .  The ILO, through Safe and Fair Programme, promotes safe and fair labor migration for all women in the ASEAN region. This programme is implemented through a partnership between ILO and UN Women under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.

By Teresa Lai and Kristy Poon, PR Fellow @JWB

More about Josephine’s case:

More about ILO’s Safe and Fair Programme:

*Name changed to protect client’s privacy