The biggest change was ongoing cases in Hong Kong were delayed due to temporary court closures in early 2020.
Prolonged lockdowns in our clients’ home countries also amplified some of the logistical issues in cross-border cases. For example, clients faced difficulty accessing printing and mailing facilities to send court documents to Hong Kong.
As the pandemic disproportionately affected vulnerable migrant workers, we held a series of webinars in collaboration with our partner NGO, HELP for Domestic Workers, and published infographics on migrant worker rights for workers subjected to unfair or ill-treatment during Covid-19. We soon received multiple queries from workers who were unfortunately terminated due to their inability to travel back to Hong Kong after their vacation. We subsequently took on some of these cases while referring others to our partner organisations in Hong Kong.
We successfully launched a one-year mentorship program with the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions in November 2020. We had to monitor the Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong while organising training events. Some events became virtual conferences, but we also managed to conduct two training workshops in-person with social distancing measures in place. Despite these changes, we have always endeavoured to maintain a high level of engagement with our participants, and ensure that our efforts translate into real impacts on the migrant worker community.
We continue our work to make cross-border access to justice a reality for vulnerable migrant workers, wherever they are and whatever the situation may be in. This means continuing to push boundaries so that the civil justice system in Hong Kong will be more accessible to the most vulnerable.
Interest levels remain largely similar to pre-COVID times. In Hong Kong, we have been more focused on building our internal infrastructure during COVID-19.
Yes. The courts, the Labour Tribunal, and administrative departments, such as the Labour Department, have become a lot more receptive to electronic communication. They only accepted letters or faxes in the past. Seeking the Labour Tribunal’s permission for virtual hearings has also become slightly easier. I believe this is the result of both the ground-breaking precedent that JWB set in 2019 and the current COVID-19 situation.
It has been a lot easier to communicate via video conferencing platforms since these platforms have become more accessible to everyone in the world, including our clients in Indonesia and the Philippines.
I’ve learnt the importance of proactively reaching out to our colleagues, clients and partners, not only to keep them engaged in the ongoing work but also to check in on how they’ve been doing during these difficult times.
JWB will continue to soldier on and advance cross-border access to justice for vulnerable migrant workers by ensuring that victims of abuse and exploitation can seek fair compensation, wherever they are. After the pandemic is over, we will be able to resume the expansion of our work to the Philippines and develop a larger and stronger network there to support our clients in their journey to justice.
Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are sadly more vulnerable than many other workers during the pandemic. Required by law to live in their employers’ homes, many have little choice but to work longer hours and are pressured to stay home even on Sundays, which means they are effectively denied their only weekly rest day. Needless to say, COVID-19 is exacerbating xenophobia and discrimination in Hong Kong and around the world, which puts migrant workers in a more disadvantaged position.
Justine Lam is the Head of Office for JWB in Hong Kong. She spearheads all migrant worker cases that involve Hong Kong as a host country, where she deals with various procedural and logistical challenges that arise in cross-border civil claims. Justine graduated from the University of Hong Kong with an LLB, minoring in Politics and Public Administration. Justine was a Legal Fellow at JWB during her final year at university and she has contributed to the drafting of our recent strategic research publication: Accessing Hong Kong Courts from Abroad: A Strategic Guide to remote video link for Migrant Workers. Justine is also very active in volunteering work in Myanmar. She has co-organised several volunteering projects and conducted a series of human rights workshops for local Myanmar students since 2015.