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What do migrant workers in Hong Kong want? What do they need? What advice would they give to aspirant migrants?
To find out the answers to these questions, we interviewed Sri Martuti (who goes by Judy), an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong.
Where are you from? Why did you decide to come to Hong Kong? How long have you been working here?
I’m from Cilacap, Central Java, in Indonesia. I decided to migrate to Hong Kong for two reasons: 1) Economic needs (I’m a single parent); and 2) It is hard to find work in Indonesia. I migrated to Hong Kong in April 2009 and have worked here for eight years.
What do you like about working in Hong Kong? What do you dislike?
First, working in Hong Kong has given me a lot of knowledge, new experiences and opportunities that I would not have gotten in Indonesia. It has also been a place for me to learn the meaning of being self-reliant. Here, I am free to express myself and develop my skills and talents. Besides that, I am comfortable because I don’t experience discrimination and life here is very organized and dynamic.
Still, Hong Kong with its freedoms can make people become materialistic and hedonistic. If you hang out with the wrong group of people or friends, Hong Kong can be like hell.
Where do Indonesian migrant workers turn to for advice? What stops Indonesian migrant workers from reaching out to organizations or the government for help?
Indonesian migrant workers look for advice from their network or friends because of one factor: comfort. Indonesian migrant workers tend to shy away from government or other organizations that are actually very competent in giving information about labour rights simply because they are unable to give that same feeling of comfort or satisfaction to migrant workers.
There are several factors why Indonesian migrant workers aren’t familiar with government or other institutions and would prefer to reach out to friends. One reason is that they feel afraid, worried or intimidated by these institutions. This is due to the attitudes and treatment from some government employees who underestimate or dismiss the issues faced by Indonesian migrant workers.
How can Indonesian migrant workers avoid exploitation and succeed abroad?
Indonesian migrant workers can avoid exploitation and succeed abroad if they:
- Set goals and focus on achieving them by a certain time.
- Don’t fall easily for things that aren’t certain (e.g. love, debts, business, etc.)
- Regularly join positive activities that can help when they go home, like seminars, courses and lectures.
- Take advantage of technology (gadgets and the Internet) to study and find useful information.
- Widen their network and keep good relationships with friends and organizations.
- Communicate regularly with their family back home.
- Be diligent about saving and avoid wasting money.
If you could give advice to aspirant migrant workers, what would you tell them?
I would like to tell them a few things:
Ask your recruitment agency about laws to protect migrant workers and specific rights. This can include things like: salary, right to take leave and day off each week, rights when sick or giving birth, health insurance, working hours, facilities in your employer’s home, specific duties and rights when your contract ends or is terminated.
Ask your friends and employer about laws and customs in your employer’s home and Hong Kong society. You should also learn to communicate in Cantonese or English and stay informed through online and print media.
Ask your friends about an Indonesian migrant worker NGO that offers counselling services. Always attend opportunities to learn through activities at the Indonesian consulate, NGOs or migrant worker organizations.
What advice would you have given yourself before you came to Hong Kong?
I would tell myself:
- I must succeed and return to Indonesia safely.
- I must always remember the reason I came to Hong Kong.
- I must always remember my family who is waiting for me at home.
- I must remember God so that I am always protected.
- I must obey the laws of Hong Kong.
- I must save.
- I must return to Indonesia as a successful person.
What are your dreams for the future?
I want to return to Indonesia soon and return to teaching like I was doing before I left for Hong Kong. I’d also like to return to being on the radio so that I can continue giving helpful information to many people. I hope to open a Community Learning Center (PKBM) for youth who drop out of school and housewives. I also want to open a small business for returned migrant workers so that they can be empowered.