Evidence is the key to success in every credible legal claim. Unfortunately, migrant domestic workers who have suffered exploitation or injury face daunting challenges in collecting the evidence they need to prove their case.
The first of several problems begin with many migrant workers simply lacking awareness that it is crucial to save materials that may support their claims. Even those who know to do so often have little idea what exactly to collect or preserve. Complicating matters further, many workers lose access to the very resources they need to document their cases. Whether it’s a lack of a mobile phone to take pictures, or employers confiscating their diaries, photographs, or signed agreements, outside forces can make evidence collection particularly challenging.
Looking to address these issues while workers are still abroad, Justice Without Borders (JWB) began work with the Indonesian Family Network (IFN) to enable their case workers to support those who lack evidence for their claims. IFN is a migrant worker community group in Singapore that provides a full range of support services to their fellow workers.
We began with a training workshop in July 2018 for IFN senior members. These participants represented a wealth of front-line experience. Twenty-six IFN members attended, each with 5-27 years of domestic work experience.
EMPOWERING WORKERS TO SEEK COMPENSATION
This workshop was part of JWB’s ongoing efforts to equip migrant workers with the knowledge and know-how needed to pursue civil claims against their abusers, even after returning home.
JWB staff began the session by discussing how workers can pursue compensation through civil litigation, even after they return home. With JWB’s assistance and its network of pro bono lawyers, workers who return to Indonesia and the Philippines can still access pro bono help via JWB’s Jakarta office, which liaises with its Singapore office.
Facilitators then addressed many common misconceptions that participants may have about their legal rights in Singapore. For example, a majority of the participants thought that local employment agencies could legally deduct more than eight months’ salary in agency fees. In fact, under Singapore law, Singapore employment agencies can only charge a maximum of one month’s salary for every year of employment. Such misconceptions clearly illustrate an information gap that prevents many domestic workers from pursuing claims.
Next, participants from IFN were trained on identifying civil claims. Mr. Muslim Albakri of Singapore law firm Tan Kok Quan Partnership highlighted four of the most common problems that may amount to civil claims, including underpayment or non-payment of salary, illegal deductions, illegal deployment and abuse.
“WRITE IT DOWN” AND OTHER KEY LEARNINGS: INSTILLING NEW SKILLS THROUGH PRACTICAL EXERCISES
Participants practiced the skills learned at the workshop, via hypothetical case materials, drawn from real life. They identified the potential civil claims and pieces of evidence needed to support the claims for each case study.
Facilitators emphasised the importance of documentation, urging participants to keep detailed records, such as diary entries, photographs, medical reports, and bank transfer receipts. Participants also brainstormed creative methods of evidence collection and creation, one example being sending photographs and text messages to friends and family at the time a worker suffered abuse. These messages may later be accepted in court as contemporaneous evidence, that is, evidence created at the time that an incident occurred. Text messages to one’s employer could also be used as substantiation of non-payment of salary.
The training session ended with a mantra: Write it down. Participants were taught that every word and detail recorded can be a testament to their experience, pushing the balance of evidence further in their direction.
JWB wishes to thank its partner the Indonesian Family Network, and volunteer lawyer, Mr. Muslim Albakri. We look forward to developing IFN members’ skills further through long-term support.