Update from Hong Kong: Mapping Routes to Remedies for Domestic Workers

September 7, 2015
Category: Strategic Research & Practical Guides

By Fiona Li and Catherine Tsang

This summer, the JWB team in Hong Kong commenced work on a new tool that seeks to make access to just compensation a reality for migrant workers victimized in Hong Kong.

Led by a team of seven legal fellows from Hong Kong University, our goal is to produce a Practitioner’s Manual targeted at legal practitioners and caseworkers in both Hong Kong and the Migrant Domestic Workers’ (MDW) home countries. The manual will include comprehensive information regarding the law and practice directions on MDWs, with case studies illustrating the law in practice. With over 300,000 MDWs in Hong Kong, we hope to provide an accessible technical guide that will serve as a building block for international lifelines to legal aid, connecting practitioners and victims on both sides of the Hong Kong-bound migration routes.

Building this work involves the community of local practitioners, and we have interviewed those with vast experience helping MDWs every day, including Helpers for Domestic Helpers (HDH), Christian Action (CA), and Daly and Associates, amongst others. We also visited the Labour Tribunal, where much of Hong Kong’s employment litigation takes place. There, we supported the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions in preparing the case for an Indonesian worker with an outstanding salary claim. Finally, we have been collaborating with practitioners at Herbert Smith Freehills and Dechert to review and refine our research. Their practical experience adds immense value to our work, helping us meet our goal of producing a manual with the most relevant and useful information for bringing claims, even when the victim is thousands of kilometers away.

Legal Fellows Fiona and Catherine meeting with Leo Tang from the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions.

Reaching Across Jurisdictions: Remote Appearances in Hong Kong Courts

One exciting finding from our research is the availability of the Technology Court (TC). According to the guidelines, it is supposed to be accessible at all levels, including the Small Claims Tribunal and the Labour Tribunal, the two courts MDW’s most commonly access. The TC would enable MDWs who have returned home to bring claims remotely, avoiding the time and expense of returning to Hong Kong for court. So far, no MDW has applied to use the LT. While we anticipate certain challenges in accessing it, its presence and legal framework make this new avenue promising.

One challenge for now, however, is that we have limited information on the practicality of the Technology Court, let alone its accessibility in practice at the Small Claim Tribunal and Labour Tribunal. From the conversations we have had with legal practitioners and front-line caseworkers, they either have never heard about the TC or know very little about its use in the lower courts. Our next step then is to reach out to presiding officers at the Labour Tribunal and ask how the TC can be used in practice.

HSF manual development conference
Pro bono lawyers at Herbert Smith Freehills work with JWB summer legal fellows in developing our Practitioner’s Manual for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong.

These questions aside, we are excited to complete the first draft of the manual in August. We will be supplementing this work with case-intake at Helpers for Domestic Helpers to gain an insight into the hands-on work caseworkers do, as well as the realities of the issues that MDWs face. It should be very fruitful and will supplement our research with the real life contexts that practitioners encounter on the ground. By this fall, we look forward to launching the first version of the manual and applying it to potential cases in the field.

Catherine Tsang is a Pro Bono Legal Fellow at Justice Without Borders and a rising final year law student at the University of Hong Kong.

Fiona Li is a Pro Bono Legal Fellow at Justice Without Borders and a rising final year Law and Literature student at the University of Hong Kong.