Returning home has often meant the end of the line for migrant workers seeking justice against their abusers in Hong Kong.
That all changed on 19 February 2019, when the city’s Labour Tribunal issued a groundbreaking decision to allow a migrant worker continue their case via video conferencing from the Philippines. It represents the first such approval, turning the law on paper into a mechanism that other workers can access from abroad.
One Worker’s Victory Leaves a Lasting Impact For All Workers
JWB’s client, Ms. Joenalyn Domingo, has had a long road to this outcome. She had sought compensation against her previous employer for unfair dismissal before leaving Hong Kong, but a family member falling gravely ill forced her to return to the Philippines, leaving her case in limbo. Video conferencing means that she can now finally seek damages for wrongful dismissal without having to fly to Hong Kong.
Ms. Domingo’s case is a victory for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Hong Kong and already back home. Sadly, many workers must decide whether to stay months or even years in Hong Kong to pursue their cases, or just give up their claims and go home. Many of them take very small settlements or decide not to seek redress at all.
Claimants can now return home without making this difficult choice. They can resume their lives without giving up their rights in Hong Kong. Critically, it also means bad employers cannot escape responsibility by dragging their feet until their former employees go home.
Background of the Litigation: A Culmination of Two Years of Strategic Litigation
This monumental victory sets a clear precedent for future cases, and is a long time in the making. It follows an earlier landmark High Court judgment in the same case, which affirmed the right of workers to request video conferencing access at the Tribunal. The High Court judgment also laid out clear guidelines for using video conferencing. The Tribunal had previously thrown out Ms. Domingo’s case, but the High Court reinstated it with instructions to re-hear the case.
The latest decision confirms for all migrant workers that video conference testimony is a real possibility.
Victory was a group effort. JWB took up the case on referral from HELP for Domestic Workers (HELP), a Hong Kong-based frontline organisation. Working with HELP and partners that included the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), Philippines-based International Pro Bono Alliance, Senior Partner Ms. Kareena Teh and her team of pro bono lawyers at EY Law, the group helped Ms. Domingo apply for video link in 2017.
Ms. Shiella Grace Estrada, the union officer representing Ms. Domingo, said of the latest decision, “I am really happy. From the first hearing to the Technology Court, it has been amazing. I am thinking about the many migrant workers who will go to Justice Without Borders and FADWU and request for help like this in the future. There are a lot of migrant workers seeking fair justice.”
Second Landmark Victory: Union Representation
The Labour Tribunal also confirmed that union officers can represent workers who are attending court from abroad. With lawyers barred from representing parties at the Tribunal, workers back home would need to rely on a local liaison to manage the case. The Tribunal’s decision ensures that workers can secure the representation they need to conduct the case in Hong Kong before, during and after the video conference.
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