A Filipina domestic worker found unconscious in her employers’ home in 2017 died of natural causes, a Hong Kong jury has ruled following a week-long inquest.

The four-person jury returned to the Coroners’ Court at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on Wednesday. Deliberations began at 10 a.m. and a verdict on the death of Leonita Arcillas Quinto was delivered at 2:30 p.m. The inquest began last Tuesday.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Quinto was employed as a domestic worker in Hong Kong when she died on April 4, 2017. The 46-year-old was found unconscious in her room at her employer’s home, and was later pronounced dead at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

The jury of two women and two men took more than four hours to reach its verdict.

When asked what had caused Quinto’s death, the jury said that the cause of death was unknown. It gave some recommendations to the police and the Labour Department.

The jury recommended that the police, when handling cases of illegal activities, bodily harm, or death involving foreign domestic workers, should immediately obtain all relevant documents, including their work contract from the agency that handled their employment.

Police were also recommended to proactively provide a translator to anyone whose mother tongue was not one of Hong Kong’s “local languages” when recording statements. The force should also make a record of the choice, and make the relevant arrangements to supply the translator, the jury said.

The Labour Department was advised to make sure that domestic worker employment agencies keep all relevant records at least for the duration of employment, and ensure that employers and employees each kept a copy of the domestic worker’s medical record.

The jury also suggested that the Labour Department add an examination system to its licensing mechanism to ensure that agencies possess ample, accurate understanding of labour and foreign domestic workers’ rights.

stanley ho chun yiu
Stanley Ho Chun-yiu.

Additionally, the department was advised to compile a list of information – including the ways that workers could seek help or complain – to be handed to the employer and the employee at the beginning of each term of employment.

During the inquest, the agency handling Quinto’s contract testified in court that it had not kept her records on file.

The jury suggested that the court launch an investigation into the employment agency to see whether it had violated any regulations or laws.

Upon hearing the jury’s recommendations, Coroner Stanley Ho said that while the testimonies showed that Quinto and her employers were in a dispute, the employer had failed to mention that to the police when an officer went to their home to investigate Quinto’s death.

The coroner suggested that the police should look into the pair, even though they left Hong Kong in February.

In a response to HKFP, the Labour Department said on Wednesday night that it “will study the recommendations of the Coroner’s Court and take appropriate follow-up actions.”

Labour Department
Labour Department. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The department also said that the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies set out the “minimum standards” which the government expects from agencies, and that the department “regularly organises briefing sessions” for agencies about the regulations and laws under the code.

Family ‘grateful’ for inquest

Quinto’s sister, Imedla, said in a statement that she would like thank people “who helped make this inquest possible.”

“I am also grateful to everyone who participated in the inquest so I had a chance to learn my sister’s story from them,” Quinto’s younger sister said.

“I pray that other migrant domestic workers will always be careful and do not go through what my sister suffered with her employer. I hope this inquest inspires people in Hong Kong to pay more attention to the grievances of migrant domestic workers. I hope to see an assessment of potential employers of migrant domestic workers in the future.”

Justine Lam, head of Justice Without Borders’ Hong Kong Office, said that the verdict “unfortunately does not shed much more light on why Leonita died.”

The organisation helped Quinto’s family to pursue the inquest into the 46-year-old’s death.

“The fact Leonita’s employers refusing to particpate in the inquest and avoiding contact after moving out of Hong Kong attributed to part of the unclear outcome.”

“The jury’s recommendations have highlighted some important issues for the government’s consideration.”

“We welcome these recommendations and look forward to this process developing further so that migrant domestic workers will be afforded more protections to ensure their health and safety at work.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.