Khabar Southeast Asia

Abused migrant worker now advocate for others

By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

May 22, 2014

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (centre) and fellow workers' rights activists participate in a Labour Day rally in Jakarta on May 1st. [Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata/Khabar]

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (centre) and fellow workers' rights activists participate in a Labour Day rally in Jakarta on May 1st. [Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata/Khabar]

Advocates for migrant workers are hoping international attention to the suffering of one woman will bring relief to many more who support their families and their nation by working abroad.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih may go to Hong Kong to testify in the criminal trial of the woman who allegedly abused her, Yogyakarta Legal Aid Foundation attorney Samsudin Nurseha told Khabar Southeast Asia. The trial is set to resume this week.

"We hope this process could set a good precedent for migrant workers' employers in Hong Kong to treat their domestic helpers well. We hope no such case will happen again in the future, and let this be the last case of abuse against migrant domestic helpers in Hong Kong," Samsudin said.

Law Wan-tung faces at least 32 charges related to her alleged assault and exploitation of Erwiana and two other women, Tutik Lestari Ningsih and Nurhasanah, whom she had earlier employed, according to Hong Kong's The Standard newspaper.

The two other migrant workers were also Indonesian nationals, the South China Morning Post reported.

Erwiana's boss allegedly hit her with a mop, vacuum cleaner tube, hanger and ruler, and shoved her head against a wall while employing her as a maid from May 2013 to January.

It was revealed in court on April 29th that Law had not paid Erwiana any wages at all, or the annual leave pay and 16 vacation days owed to her, Hong Kong media reported.

"She just dropped me off at the airport at 1am on January 10th. She told me not to say anything about my situation to anyone while threatening to abuse me again or to kill my parents," Erwiana told Khabar.

She was hospitalised in critical condition after reaching her home in Sragen, Central Java, psychologically traumatised and unable to walk, reports said.

"I have no intention of working as a migrant worker again," she told Khabar.

Rallying with workers

Erwiana appeared at a Labour Day rally in Jakarta on May 1st, where she marched with thousands of workers demanding better workplace conditions and compensation.

Not long before, TIME magazine named her as one its "100 Most Influential People" in 2014.

"I am very happy," Erwiana said of the listing. "I hope it can grab the Indonesian and Hong Kong governments' attention and they won't regard migrant workers as insignificant."

Erwiana and other members of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Association (ATKI) also marched to demand government safeguards for migrant workers.

An advocacy group, the Network of Indonesian Migrant workers (JBMI), received 2,643 complaints from Indonesian workers in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Taiwan about exploitation and worker abuse, ATKI spokeswoman Iwenk Karsiwen told Khabar, adding this was "just the tip of the iceberg".

"They have no fixed working hours. Their condition is just like slavery," she said.

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