Justice Without Borders (JWB) and its partners scored a recent victory to show that the path of justice would not be diverted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The case represents major advances in uncovering evidence across borders, while securing compensation in two countries at the same time.
For the client herself, Rianna*, the victory was a long time coming.
Rianna’s trials began over three years ago, when she was hired to work in Singapore in January. Right from the start, her employer paid only a small portion of her salary, due to exorbitant agency fees that they deducted every month.
Her employer also worked her far beyond her contract; Although guaranteed two rest days per month, Rianna could not start taking rest days until four months into her work. Even then, she only received one rest day per month—the other rest days she worked without compensation. Rianna recounted an incident when she fell sick for three days with the flu. Instead of giving her time off to recover, her employers made her work through her illness, only taking her to see a doctor later when it was convenient for them to do so.
In a classic case of illegal deployment, Rianna was made to work not just at her employer’s home but also their grandparent’s house. In addition to it being extra work, it was also illegal—domestic workers can only work for one employer, in one house.
Initially she worked at the grandparents’ house three times a week, but once they moved closer to the employer’s home, this increased to every day. Rianna’s employers made her do this extra work for free—a classic case of labour exploitation.
Rianna endured this exploitation as best she could until, suddenly, her employer terminated her seven months later. The firing was swift; her agent appeared at her employer’s house one day and told her to pack her belongings and leave together. Rianna thought that she was being transferred to a new employer, but she quickly learned that she had been terminated. She was to be flown back to Indonesia the following day.
“I was very shocked. I cried. There was only the plane ticket…if only they had said it beforehand, I could have been prepared. But they didn’t say anything. I felt completely dejected,” Rianna recalled.
After her return to Indonesia, Rianna and her husband sought help from the Indramayu branch of JWB’s NGO partner – Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (“SBMI”, the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union). SBMI filed a report with the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and referred her case to JWB.
JWB and SBMI proceeded to retrieve Rianna’s passport from her local agency in Indonesia. JWB then employed a new strategy to help Rianna gather crucial evidence for her case by working with BNP2TKI (The National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers). This allowed JWB to recover the agency contracts in both home and host country, along with other important documents, such as copies of her placement agreement and her insurance card. These were instrumental in helping Rianna claim insurance from her local agency in Indonesia while supporting her claim against her employer in Singapore. JWB also analysed the law and helped map out case strategy in Singapore, while guiding Rianna through the negotiation process.
For the litigation, JWB connected Rianna to lawyers from Providence Law Asia LLC. They helped her file a civil claim against her employer for a host of issues, including illegal salary deductions, nonpayment for working during rest days, and for forcing her to work illegally for free at the grandmother’s house. They also claimed salary for her sudden termination.
JWB’s legal team eventually helped Rianna reach a settlement with her employer that met her expectations and helped her move forward. More than the money, Rianna was thrilled at the chance to hold her employer accountable for what they did. She also hoped the case would remind other employers to treat their domestic workers with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
Rianna’s victory came in the midst of Covid-19, and was an encouraging reminder that even in difficult times, advocates working together can make a difference.
“If you have experienced the same situation as me, don’t be afraid to report. As long as we are right, we don’t have to be afraid. If we are right, we will be helped,” Rianna said.
* Names have been changed to protect the client’s identity.