Capacity building has always been key to Justice Without Borders’ (JWB) work in enhancing cross-border access to justice. Equipping frontline caseworkers, partners and migrant workers with knowledge of cross-border litigation helps JWB scale up operations to reach thousands more workers who have valid claims to bring. Since 2017, JWB has trained more than 1200 caseworkers, community paralegals and lawyers.
All this came to an abrupt halt when Covid-19 hit in February 2020. As governments imposed strict work-from-home measures, and limited the size of gatherings and people movement, all forms of in-person meetings and trainings had to be cancelled.
Working closely with NGO partners, JWB quickly rose to the challenge by using technology to overcome these barriers and continue its capacity building work:
In August 2020, JWB rolled out its very first series of Singapore online training workshops in collaboration with NGO partners, Suara Kita and Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME). Held over Zoom and Webex video conferencing platforms, each 90-minute session was attended by small groups of 15 migrant domestic workers (MDWs) who came together to learn about migrant worker rights.
As this was the JWB team’s first foray into conducting online workshops, much care was taken to prepare for the sessions. They experimented with different online conferencing platforms and held numerous dry runs with pro bono lawyer presenters and interpreters.
To compensate for the lack of interaction that would have been a natural part of in-person workshops, JWB re-structured the training content to encourage audience engagement. Legal concepts were taught through the use of hypothetical scenarios, which were modelled off the experiences of the MDWs themselves. Extra care was taken to include small group interactions through the use of special video conferencing functions such as online polls and breakout rooms. These helped participants to respond and feel more at ease despite being only connected in the digital space.
Despite the extra effort, some challenges remained. Muslim Albakri, a pro bono lawyer and session trainer, explains, “As we were not in the same room together, it was harder to read their body language, gauge their reactions and assess their level of understanding so that we could all move at the same pace. Nevertheless we made the best of things.”
The result of the team’s efforts, despite the locality challenges was telling:
In feedback polls held after the training, 86% of the participants found the sessions effective, and information well structured and easy to understand.
The remote nature of the online workshop also brought about unexpected benefits: Dian, a long-time volunteer interpreter, was able to assist in one of the training workshops, despite being based in Australia. Additionally, online sessions allowed for greater flexibility for MDWs who may not have had the time to attend a workshop on their rest day. Tan Jun Yin, JWB’s Head of Singapore Office said, “The domestic workers saved the travel time and cost that they would need to spend to attend a physical workshop. Also, since the workshops last between 90 – 120 minutes, they may not need to wait for a rest day to tune in. This got us thinking further about perhaps recording podcasts for MDWs that they can tune into while working. The possibilities are exciting to explore. Overall, the online part form may allow us to reach more workers than before.”
Following the success of the online training workshops, the Singapore team is rolling out an additional workshop with the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST). And looking beyond Singapore, preliminary discussions have started on rolling out similar workshops in Banyumas (Central Java), Banyuwangi (East Java) and West Java with our various NGO partners in Indonesia.
Besides online training workshops taking place in real time, the JWB team also saw the need to develop Covid-19 related online content that would be readily available to migrant domestic workers.
Frequent changes in regulations imposed by the Singapore and Hong Kong governments in reaction to the fast-changing Covid-19 situation left many migrant workers confused about their rights in regards to overseas travel, taking their rest days, work compensation and termination of contract. Many were also uncertain whether information or instructions conveyed by their employers were in line with the new regulations or if they were simply exploiting them.
In response, JWB developed a series of COVID-19 related infographics that was shared on Facebook in three languages: English, Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog. Combined, the infographics reached over 18,000 users on the JWB Facebook page. They covered the most updated and comprehensive information on Covid-19 related laws and policies, including information on unlawful termination during the pandemic and general COVID-19 safety guidelines.
To further help migrant domestic workers who had their contracts suddenly terminated by their employers because of Covid-19, JWB collaborated with HELP for Domestic Workers in Hong Kong to develop a series of pre-recorded webinars to answer frequently asked questions on termination and quarantine measures when traveling. These covered key information and to-dos that migrant domestic workers need to know, should they need to leave or come back to Hong Kong. The pilot video reached over 17,000 people on the JWB Facebook page alone. (Webinar 1, Webinar 2)
“Going online opened up many channels of outreach that we had not considered before. This is yet another way that we can reach migrant domestic workers to share vital information that they needed without actually meeting them in person,” said Justine Lam, Head of JWB’s Hong Kong Office.
Thanks to technology, JWB has been able to find new and creative ways to continue driving key capacity building work with its NGO partners through the critical months of the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue to utilize social media and video conferencing technology to its fullest potential, so that our stakeholders attain the knowledge that they need to help bring access to justice for migrant workers, even after they return home.