“You think you’re so great because you’re rich?”, “How much do you pay? …working 24 hours, but don’t even have holidays.”
A video of a foreign domestic worker sarcastically reprimanding Hong Kong employers gained traction last month. But Contrinx, the Indonesian YouTuber who won’t reveal her name for safety reasons – doesn’t normally jeer as she did in the viral clip and she isn’t new to the issue.
She has been acting as a counsellor for migrant workers for 10 years and, in 2018, started writing blogs and posting videos to promote their rights.
During Hong Kong’s worst Covid outbreak, some workers were thrown out of their employers’ homes when they became infected. “She had already gone to hospital and took medicine, but you still decided to fire her. Where’s your conscience?” Contrinx asked of the bosses concerned.
Wiping away tears, she told HKFP: “I feel sad… why don’t you [employers] treat us fairly?”
Contrinx handles cases of sexual harassment, financial exploitation and even discrimination. She even spends her weekend holidays listening to complaints and talks to domestic workers by phone on weeknights in urgent cases.
For Contrinx, the Immigration Department’s visa approval system is unfair: “If the government received a complaint from the employer, they would deny our visa application. They just listen to one side. At least give us a chance to defend ourselves.”
Work performance, after all, is subjective. While some employers complain that their employees are not working hard enough, no one appears to review whether the workload is reasonable.
In order to retain a visa, workers are forced to obey their bosses. Contrinx described Hong Kong’s 400,000 foreign domestic workers as “muted, routinely silenced.” She rarely advises victims to report to police or go to court, since it is impossible to garner evidence and win a lawsuit.
“If we record something, it may violate the privacy law… If you ask the victim to recall and recall the experience again, it would damage her too,” she said, acknowledging feelings of frustration and powerlessness.
Video that changed everything
Contrinx was pondering what could be done to raise awareness and address the root of the employer-employee difficulty. In 2018, she started writing online blogs and posting videos every early morning while her boss was still asleep. Through social media and word of mouth, she became famous among the domestic helper community. Still, Contrinx felt unsatisfied.
That was until she posted a video on YouTube on 18 March, scolding employers in fluent Cantonese.
“You think I’m not tired? I still help you when I’m tired.”, “We’re also humans. We’re not robots.” “You think you’re so great because you’re rich?”
One of Contrinx’s former employers saw it online and called her immediately, “Are you OK? Is everything all right?” She laughed and reassured him that she was fine with her current boss: “I made this video for other domestic workers. And I say it in Cantonese because I want to communicate with the local employers too.”
Her advocacy also attracted contempt and ridicule. Hateful comments were left on her social media accounts. Facebook and YouTube received a number of complaints about her account, and banned her from commenting for a period.
But Contrinx was not deterred. “I’m so happy that I made it – I got your attention,” she said with a broad smile. She’s since made more videos explaining how difficult it is to be a domestic worker, especially during the pandemic. Her Facebook page now has 34,000 followers.
“Finally, they can hear our voice.”
Since the pandemic began, Hong Kong police have been issuing penalty tickets to workers who gather in groups of more than two, or without adequate distance between each group. The HK$5,000 fixed penalty is higher than the minimum monthly wage of HK$4,630. More tickets have been issued since the fifth wave began.
Even worse, some bosses ban their employees from leaving the apartment and pay extra to compensate. “They don’t allow us to go out, to avoid the virus, but they have parties at home, inviting friends to come,” said Contrinx, condemning the double standard.
“Because you’re higher than me? We’re lower than you? Because of social status, you think you can treat us unfairly?” she asked.
Contrinx also spoke of the basic need for rest: “We’re here. Helping a lot, so that you can have a date, meet a friend every day. And we can only do that once a week. Or at least, if you don’t want us to go out, we need a place to rest. Many migrant workers don’t have their own room.”
She also questioned how police never crack down on employers’ private gatherings, which also violate Covid rules banning gatherings of more than two households on private premises.
Migrant workers are not virus carriers
In February, a domestic worker from the Philippines was forced to live on the streets after she tested positive for Covid-19, and later resigned. She showed the Immigration Department a video to prove that she is forced to sleep on the floor next to a shoe cabinet, but the authorities still refused her a new visa.
The case sparked an outcry, though Contrinx said many workers have been fired when they become infected with Covid-19. “The employers just don’t admit it. They can make up excuses like bad working performance.”
Thoughts of the helplessness of her fellow workers reduced her to tears. “Do you know your domestic worker doesn’t want to get infected too? She already went to hospital and took medicine, but you still decide to fire her. Where’s your conscience?”
Employers are struggling too
Contrinx emphasised that “not all employers are bad people” and she has met many kind ones. When she first came to Hong Kong, she only spoke English and Bahasa Indonesian. At the time, her employers, who were an old couple, let her watch Asia TV and explained the meanings of Cantonese words so that she could pick up the language. Within a month, she could speak eloquently and communicate with local people like shopkeepers.
She is grateful to the old couple for giving her a chance to learn the language, “the bridge to link people.” She makes use of her linguistic talents in her videos, explaining the same point in Cantonese, English and Indonesian to ensure all parties can understand.
She also sympathises with the financial pressures which employers face. “I know they’re not having a good time. The living expenses are high in Hong Kong. They have to pay the bills, the tax, and our salaries.”
“It’s OK. Money doesn’t mean everything. We’re staying here and helping. Sometimes, it is not about how much you pay. HK$4,630 is not much. If you respect us and treat us nicely, we’ll help you.”
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