With rapidly growing memberships, Hong Kong’s migrant domestic worker unions are increasingly on the forefront in supporting workers in distress. For many members, casework is a new experience, demanding skills they are eager to learn.
From early this year, Justice Without Borders (JWB) began training union members on effective casework involving civil claims, empowering them to help workers claim compensation from exploitative agencies and employers.
For example, JWB recently organised a full-day workshop for 15 union members from the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong (PLUDW-HK). The union is an overseas branch of SENTRO in the Philippines, a nationwide union that is expanding its services to returning migrant workers, both abroad and back home. Learn more about our work with SENTRO.
Building upon this cross-border infrastructure, JWB sought to equip PLUDW-HK with the skills needed to assist workers in preparing and bringing civil claims in Hong Kong from abroad, after returning home.
FROM WELL-KNOWN PROBLEMS TO NEW TACTICS IN CIVIL LITIGATION
The workshop covered common abuses faced by migrant workers, including overcharging by employment agencies, illegal deployment, physical abuse and unlawful dismissal. Training was conducted by JWB’s staff and volunteer lawyers from partner law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.
JWB’s Executive Director Douglas MacLean kicked off the training by highlighting the central role of union members in preparing strong civil cases. He introduced the concept of cross-border civil claims, a legal option that is new to many union members.
Lawyers Vicky Man and Cynthia Chan trained participants on identifying claims and collecting evidence. Through interactive small group activities, participants worked on a hypothetical case and brainstormed ideas about case strategies together.
Participants then connected the materials to their work, sharing their personal experiences and the challenges they faced in collecting evidence. Union members spoke about the common struggles migrant workers face due to agency malpractice or unfair treatment by employers. Members enthusiastically raised detailed questions based on their casework experience and shared issues with agencies that they personally encountered.
JWB’s Hong Kong Head of Office Justine Lam covered key evidence needed for strong civil claims and good practices in evidence collection. Ms. Lam said, “Evidence is always key to a successful claim. It is important that all materials are gathered early and efficiently.”
“Union activists can play an important role in the early stage of case preparation if they have a good awareness of the types of evidence needed for different claims,” she added.
Lawyers Ms. Man and Ms. Chan shared strategies on making complaints to the Hong Kong authorities, using those complaints as evidence, and methods to gather important evidence.
CAPACITY BUILDING TO MAKE COMPENSATION POSSIBLE FOR RETURNEES
The workshop is part of JWB’s capacity building project to encourage Filipino domestic workers to pursue their Hong Kong-based claims after they return home. Many workers who endure contract violations or abuses are compelled to leave Hong Kong quickly, later facing enormous difficulties in pursuing civil compensation claims against employers or employment agencies abroad.
With returning to Hong Kong for court an impossibility for many, JWB has pursued access to video conferencing technologies to allow the worker to appear in court remotely. Most recently, JWB and its partners have been pursuing a request for video link on behalf of a Filipino worker. In a recent landmark victory for all migrant workers in Hong Kong, the High Court declared that the Labour Tribunal and Small Claims Tribunal must consider requests to testify via video conference. The High Court ordered the Labour Tribunal to reconsider the request for video link and the case is now being heard again.
Going forward, with union members trained to manage cross-border claims, workers who have returned home can still hold abusers financially responsible for their actions. After the training, one participant said, “I’ve learned where to go if we have a problem about employment and how to handle simple cases.”
The training sets the stage for future case screenings, with JWB staff now working with the participants to help them identify and develop claims. We are grateful to our union partners and Herbert Smith Freehills LLP for their support.