At last, death has spared Elis further misery. Who could have worse luck than the poor Indonesian who was staying in a makeshift boarding house waiting to start a new job as a domestic helper when a chunk of concrete, not from unauthorised building works, but from an air-conditioner canopy that is part of the building’s original design, fell on her?
Who was paying the cost of her treatment, considering she was not injured while performing her job as a domestic helper? What did her agency do to help her? According to reports, the agency’s immediate reaction had been to deny culpability by saying the area was for storage only and that maids were told not to sleep there. In that case, how come there was a mattress there?
It’s always seemed inadvisable to me for foreign domestic helpers to demand an end to the live-in arrangement, which is blamed for cases of abuse such as Erwiana’s. But what are the live-out options in a city where accommodation is so expensive locals have to pay thousands of dollars to rent tiny sub-divided flats?
Perhaps this new incident will strengthen the resolve of the new Indonesian president, to stop sending Indonesian women overseas to work as maids. And that would be a tragedy for women’s rights in Indonesia, for women have been treated much better ever since they have been able to work overseas and send money home. Now they are more respected and relied upon to support their families, more so than the menfolk who continue to farm and make much less. Are there jobs for these women that offer commensurate pay in Indonesia itself? If not,why take away these women’s chance of earning money and respect?
In many cases, abuse and suffering occurs because of a system condoned by the Indonesian government, whereby agencies milk the women as much as they can get away with. Typically, this happens in the form of a ‘training’ fee equal to six months of a maid’s salary. Hong Kong laws may forbid the Hong Kong agencies from charging as much, but as we can see they have other ways of exploiting these women for their own profit. In a case I know of, a woman who’s temperamentally unsuited to domestic work was brought to Hong Kong and recommended to a household which, after an exasperating three months, was forced to terminate her. Making the most of the two weeks in which a terminated helper is allowed to remain in Hong Kong to find a new employer, she was promptly shunted to another family – and another family. Because she could not pay up her ‘training’ fee before she was terminated each time, she was made to pay more until, as it happened, she finally paid it all off, only to be fired again and was, this time, sent back home. The agency had no more use of her.
Erwiana’s case threw the spotlight on bad employers; perhaps Elis’s untimely death will draw attention to the agencies too.