Hundreds of thousands of Indonesian women leave their homes and families to make a living as domestic workers abroad – cleaning, cooking and looking after children and the elderly. Many end up underpaid, isolated and vulnerable to abuse.
Sringatin, who was 22 when she left her home in Indonesia, gives an insight into her life as a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong.
My family didn’t want me to go to leave – they wanted me to study at university and get a job as an accountant. But studying isn’t cheap, and I didn’t earn enough doing room service in a hotel.
Going to Hong Kong was my first time outside Indonesia. It was difficult to adjust, there were so many people, all walking so quickly it made me dizzy. People just ignored each other, thinking only of themselves. But I am used to it now and Indonesia seems too slow for me when I go back!
I worked from 7am-10pm with just one day off a month in my first job, and I was underpaid. I tried to find out how to complain, but people told me it would be very hard and to be careful. If I complained I might not get another job in Hong Kong. So I kept silent.
I couldn’t leave the house because I worried that my employer would report me to the employment agency and that I would lose my job. I wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go. I am a very active person so staying inside all the time was hard – I kept thinking about going back to Indonesia.
My second job was much better. I still worked 7am-10pm but I got every Sunday and public holiday off. Many Indonesian domestic workers gather in Victoria Park on Sundays, and that’s where I first came across the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU). I started out playing guitar with them and then became confident enough to join and learn about labour rights. I soon realised that long hours, lack of statutory days off and wage-related problems are common.
Another issue we face is the lack of choice – we can only work as domestics not in other professions. And, under Hong Kong immigration law, migrant domestic workers have to live with their employer. If I did have the choice, I’d prefer to live out.
I know from personal experience the conditions Indonesian women live under. So I want to make myself useful before I die and help create change for the women of my country. This is why I am now an active member of IMWU.
We help women challenge their employers and agencies by giving them information about their rights and the law. We also give moral support and act as interpreters for women who have disputes at the Labour Department. The Labour Officer seems to be on the employer’s side and not the worker’s. They can make migrant workers feel that they are in the wrong – it’s hard to convince them that they have a legitimate claim.
I have been in Hong Kong for 10 years now. One day I will go back to Indonesia, but I need to prepare myself first, because here in Hong Kong I’m part of a community. When I go back I’ll feel alone. My dream is to have a community cafe. Young Indonesians don’t have many things to do, so I want to create a place where they can drink coffee, read books, write and expand their minds.”
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