Mawar* became pregnant while working as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. After notifying her employer of her pregnancy, she began facing pressure to resign. Fearing for her job, she sought advice from Hong Kong NGO Pathfinders. Believing the situation resolved for the moment, she returned to Indonesia on what she understood was maternity leave. She learned only later that her employer had terminated her contract.
Seeking Justice from Abroad for an Unfair Termination
Pathfinders engaged Justice Without Borders to help Mawar from abroad. JWB engaged a team of lawyers at partner firm Simmons & Simmons to assist Mawar for free. These lawyers quickly turned to investigating the matter, and soon turned up a damning piece of evidence: Mawar’s employer had demanded Mawar’s employment agency to pressure her into resigning.
This quick turn of events underscores just how critical international lifelines to legal aid really are. Mawar’s termination would have left her stranded outside Hong Kong, with no other way to seek compensation from her employer. By acting as the bridge between her and the justice system in Hong Kong, JWB short circuited a common tactic that unscrupulous employers use: get the employee out of the country so that the employer can escape responsibility.
We see Mawar’s case as a prime example of what organizations working together across borders can achieve. The work in this case was also easy enough that others can do the same in the future: we prepared statements and helped the client claims to the Labour Tribunal and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which kickstarted the negotiation process. The pro bono lawyers then secured a HK $30,000 settlement (US $1,658), a significant sum in Mawar’s home town. Mawar has since received the money, allowing her to provide for her family and newborn baby.
Cross-Border Justice, Justice for All
While Mawar’s case is one of the few cross-border cases to date to settle so quickly, we and our partners intend that it will not be the last. We thank PathFinders, Simmons & Simmons and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) for their work on this case.
This victory is part of JWB’s test litigation efforts for migrant workers, to open up access to justice for all victims. Mawar is one of many migrant workers whose access to justice is impeded by the distance separating Hong Kong and their home country. Workers often find it extremely difficult to remain in a jurisdiction long enough to pursue civil claims locally. As claims can take months or even years to complete, workers face pressure to return home and find new work. Those who suffer trauma often wish to return home as soon as possible.
JWB is bringing forward civil cases in Hong Kong and Singapore for claims, such as unpaid wages, overcharging of agency fees, and abuse. We prepare suitable cases for development and places them with our law firm partners. We follow the case throughout, assisting pro bono lawyers with translation for client interviews, evidence collection and keeping in touch with clients who may live in rural areas.
*Names have been changed to protect the client’s identity.