Access to justice should only be a phone call away for migrant workers, wherever they happen to live. We have now taken another step towards making that a reality for migrant workers who have been exploited in Hong Kong.
On December 9th, we released the Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers: Bringing Claims in Hong Kong and from Abroad, which sets the groundwork for making just compensation a possibility even for those who return home. It joins our Singapore Practitioner’s Manual as the leading tool for cross-border litigation in its jurisdiction, and will support lawyers and caseworkers in both Hong Kong and clients’ home countries in holding abusive employers accountable for their actions.
[one-half-first]By making remote access to legal remedies easier, those workers who have been exploited can reject unfair settlements. They can head home, reconnect with their families, and then pursue their full claims against their abusers when they are ready to do so.” –Doug MacLean, Executive Director
Taking a practical approach to legal service, the Manual guides practitioners through the legal remedies available for some of the most common forms of labour exploitation and human trafficking found in Hong Kong. It also focuses on the special procedural and logistical challenges that clients face in bringing claims from abroad. With many victims of exploitation returning home without seeking aid, it will also enable home country support organizations and government agencies to scree cases and then work with Hong Kong lawyers in launching legal action remotely. In all, the tool will help us and our partners on the ground to increase migrant workers’ access to their legal rights in Hong Kong, even after they have departed the jurisdiction.
An Interactive Launch
Officially unveiled at the University of Hong Kong Law Faculty’s Alumni Hall, our launch event brought together JWB’s partners who helped produce the manual, as well as community organizations and government agencies that serve migrant workers on a daily basis. The event featured an interactive case screening session conducted by law students who worked on the project, with participants analyzing a client file drawn from several real world cases. Discussing the client’s legal and personal challenges in seeking compensation, the participants gathered in groups to discuss how they might address the practical issues involved in preparing the client’s claim, particularly if she were to return home.
The Road Ahead for Transnational Access to Just Compensation
Access to just compensation is critical for migrant workers, as their vulnerabilities put them at risk of labour exploitation, abuse, and even human trafficking. For many, access to justice can make the difference between obtaining unpaid wages, reclaiming illegal deductions or even damages for injuries, and going home deeper in debt than when they arrived.
Unfortunately, such access is rarely as international as the workers themselves. Recent outreach to Indonesian stakeholders highlighted the challenges workers continue to face in obtaining compensation from former employers in the host country. Overcoming these challenges requires building international networks that are equipped with the necessary knowledge and know how to bring transnational civil claims.
The Hong Kong Practitioner’s Manual allows JWB and its partners to advance this important work, and we intend to put this tool into the field right away in the New Year. In addition to working with Hong Kong support organizations to screen cases for potential litigation, JWB will be translating the Practitioner’s Manual into Bahasa Indonesia and training caseworkers in Indonesia on how to screen potential claims amongst the returnees they serve. We also intend to implement similar work in the Philippines later in the year with our partners on the ground and in government.
With Sincere Thanks to our Partners
The Hong Kong Practitioner’s Manual involved nearly 3,000 hours of pro bono and law student work. We are incredibly grateful to our partners at Herbert Smith Freehills and Dechert LLP for contributing so much of their lawyers’ time to guiding our student Legal Fellows and reviewing our work; to the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law’s Human Rights in Practice clinical course for partnering with us and providing the core of committed law students who helped develop the Manual; and to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organisation’s Forced Labour Action In the Asian Region Project (ILO-FLARE), and the many other generous donors whose investments made this entire project possible. We look forward to taking the next steps with our partners towards making access to just compensation a reality for all migrant workers.
An interactive online version of the Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers: Bringing Claims in Hong Kong and from Abroad, will be available soon on our website.