Walking with Union Leaders: The Union Mentorship Program in Hong Kong

November 1, 2021
Category: Partnerships
The mentees practice their interview skills through role-playing different employment issues they may encounter
The mentees practice their interview skills through role-playing different employment issues they may encounter

The JWB x FADWU Case Team Training Program  provides training to thirteen union leaders who are active members of the migrant domestic worker community in Hong Kong. These leaders work on the frontlines, interacting directly with migrant workers who suffer mistreatment or exploitation during their employment. A year-long curriculum, the program aims to empower and develop the case handling capacities of union leaders within the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) to a level where they can effectively respond to case enquiries and requests for assistance independently.  

This is the second time JWB has collaborated with FADWU on a capacity-building training program for its union leaders. Building upon the foundation gained from our 2019 pilot program, we next aimed to level-up the union leaders’ legal knowledge and case handling skills. These included case screenings, identifying clients’ psychosocial and emotional needs, and giving guidance on possible avenues for redress. Through organizing workshops and coaching sessions, we aimed to strengthen mentees role as an expanded pipeline of care between workers in need and the legal aid service organisations.

Personalized support to union leaders in small group coaching sessions

The small group coaching sessions are a key feature of our program. They allow mentors to provide more tailored support to the mentees with instant feedback on their case handling performance. The mentors, who are all pro bono lawyers from our partner firms, team up with 2-3 mentees over the program. They engage in monthly Sunday coaching sessions throughout the year. In each session, the mentees either conduct case interviews with real clients in the presence of their mentor, attempt legal case analysis on prepared fact patterns, or discuss their case handling experience with their mentor. The mentor, through observing the union leaders’ performance, can then identify areas of improvement and help them develop their interviewing, questioning and client management skills, as well as their ability to organise the information and evidence collected for further handling by full-time caseworkers. The ongoing process of learning-by-doing has enabled the union leaders to demonstrate improvements quickly, which helps them become confident and competent casework “first responders”. 

There has been significant improvement in mentees’ case handling skills since the program launched in November 2020. The mentees are now equipped with skills in of potential avenues of redress, how to provide emotional support to clients, and where to give referrals to shelters, professional counselling or legal aid service organisations in Hong Kong. In a few cases, the mentees even helped clients prepare for conciliation meetings at the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Labour Department.

The mentees work on legal case analysis on pre-prepared fact patterns under the guidance of their mentor.
The mentees work on legal case analysis on pre-prepared fact patterns under the guidance of their mentor.

Sharing from our team: Passionate union leaders to stand up for their community

“The humility and dedication of the mentees in empowering themselves and their community with the knowledge and skills to navigate the tricky legal system is extremely inspiring — everyone can play their part in advancing access to justice for migrant domestic workers.”

Our Hong Kong Program Officer, Jaime, has shared with us some of her thoughts after getting to know the union leaders through the program. Jaime was excited to work closely with the community leaders who, on top of having the first-hand experience of being migrant domestic workers themselves, also have a wealth of experience from their daily interactions with the community in Hong Kong. The mentees’ consistent and active participation in the program means that they always come prepared with questions, and present novel issues from their on-the-ground experience. This in turn, pushes us to think more deeply about the topics discussed in the workshops, and whether we might be able to address them in our strategic litigation. The program is a mutual learning partnership in the truest sense. Their humility and dedication never ceases to inspire Jaime, motivating her to continue her mission of advancing access to justice.

In their community, mentees are filling some of the existing access to justice gaps. The mentorship program has been an important starting point in expanding our cross-border work to domestic workers on the frontlines in their communities. With flight routes potentially reopening next year as Covid-19 conditions (hopefully) improve, mentees will be better equipped to help those who are going home to seek justice, either before or after they leave Hong Kong. 

The mentees showed strong engagement and eagerness in learning during the workshops.