Hong Kong’s Migrant Worker Labour Unions Gear Up for Direct Case Services with Justice Without Borders Access to Justice Project

March 26, 2019
Category: Capacity Building | Our work
Participants discussing potential legal issues from a case scenario at the JWB-FADWU training.

Justice Without Borders (JWB) has just launched a new six-month legal empowerment project in collaboration with the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU).  This project aims to increase the number of trained caseworkers who can address local migrant workers’ vast legal needs. Project funding is provided by the UN International Labour Organization’s FAIR programme.

Until now, our partner labour unions under the Hong Kong Confederation of  Trade Unions (HKCTU) and affiliate FADWU have relied on a small case team to address the more serious employment issues that their constituent union members bring up. Our collaboration now looks to cultivate their caseworker skills at the union leader level, drastically increasing the number of caseworkers that migrant workers can come to when needed.

The project kicked off with a two-day intensive training of FADWU’s newly-formed case team.

Covering back-to-back Sundays, JWB and its team of pro bono lawyers discussed migrant domestic workers’ legal rights around employment, employment agencies, and loan companies. Experts discussed remedies for common abuses workers can face, including excessive agency fees, illegal deployment, physical abuse, unlawful dismissal, and confiscation of personal documents.

Jonathan Crompton, Partner at RPC and JWB Advisory Board Member, speaking at the training.

Justice Without Borders hosted the training and arranged for volunteer lawyers from our partner law firms RPC, Simmons & Simmons, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and criminal lawyer, Jonathan Man, to lead the presentations on different legal issues relevant to migrant workers in Hong Kong.

Following the training, participants spoke with migrant workers in their communities to identify and assist workers who may have endured legal violations, with support from JWB and HKCTU. Participants will also refer workers to JWB, HKCTU and NGOs assisting migrant workers where needed.

Participants presenting their findings on a hypothetical case scenario at the training.

The case team project is part of FADWU’s Access to Justice Project, funded by the UN International Labour Organization. The case team project aims to equip the participants with the skills to identify and assist migrant workers with potential civil and criminal cases. These case team members will be fundamental in raising awareness of the legal rights and remedies available to workers and assisting in evidence collection.

The participants will also assist workers in bringing their cases forward to non-profits and labour unions that can help them access Hong Kong’s judicial system.

The majority of participants in the case team are from the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers, a union for Filipinas, with members from the Thai Migrant Workers Union and the Indonesian community also taking part.

JWB Executive Director Douglas MacLean speaking at the training.

New Skills for Union Members

The workshop trained participants on Hong Kong labour laws and the laws regulating agencies and money lenders, so that they can identify potential legal issues among workers in their community. JWB also introduced the concept of cross-border civil claims, a legal option for compensation that is new to many union members.

Participants acquired new skills in casework, effective case intake, and evidence collection. They learned about the legal remedies and assistance available in Hong Kong, criminal procedures in Hong Kong, and how to communicate with and report cases to the police. Participants were also trained on managing cases of physical and sexual abuse as well as victim and client sensitivity and confidentiality.

Participants actively listening to a presentation.

Participants practiced their new skills on case studies, working in teams to brainstorm strategies to assist workers facing common abuses such as unlawful dismissal and abuse. A case intake simulation trained participants on best practices for case intake, including how to effectively interview workers in a sensitive manner and to gather all relevant information and evidence necessary for a strong case.

A representative from Christian Action introducing the work they do to help domestic workers.

To wrap up the trainings, four migrant worker NGOs, HELP for Domestic Workers, Pathfinders, Christian Action, and STOP Human Trafficking introduced the services they provide, and participants were delighted to learn about the support already available for workers in distress.  The workshop concluded with HKCTU discussing a post-training action plan for the participants to get real experience with case handling under the supervision of HKCTU.

A participant speaking to volunteer lawyer, Danette Chan, on potential legal issues in a case scenario provided at the training.

We thank HKCTU, FADWU and our law firm pro bono partners for their collaboration. JWB is pleased to provide these trainings to assist in empowering the domestic worker community and connect workers with legal remedies even after they return home.