The Hong Kong Labour Tribunal will allow foreign domestic workers to testify by video when seeking compensation, even if they have left Hong Kong.
The new development came after a High Court decision last year. On Tuesday, the Labour Tribunal allowed former domestic worker Joenalyn Mallorca to testify from the Philippines.
Mallorca lodged the case in 2016 at the tribunal seeking compensation from her former employer. She alleged that she was physically assaulted and was summarily dismissed from her employment without proper grounds.
But she was forced to return to the Philippines to care for a parent who suddenly fell gravely ill, and the tribunal’s presiding officer rejected her application to appear via video link.
Justice Without Borders, a regional charity which assisted her, welcomed the “groundbreaking” new arrangement at the tribunal, saying that Mallorca would not have been able to travel to Hong Kong owing to her small salary. Plus, she would have been unable to get time off work from her current job, they said in a press release.
The group said Mallorca’s case was not unique, and many foreign domestic workers have been forced to decide whether to stay in Hong Kong for potentially years in order to pursue their cases, or give up their claim and return home.
“Until now, migrant workers who have been victimised by bad employers have had to remain in Hong Kong, living in shelters and staying unemployed while pursuing their cases. Many have had to make the difficult choice of missing out on salary while pursuing claims, or returning home and giving up their rights altogether,” said Douglas MacLean, executive director of Justice Without Borders.
“Now, going home does not need to mean going without,” he added.
The Labour Tribunal’s Presiding Officer Timon Shum Kei-Leong also approved Mallorca’s request to have a union officer represent her at her trial, marking another first.
The tribunal does not allow lawyers to represent claimants.
Shiella Grace Estrada, the union officer representing Mallorca, said she was “really happy” about the change.
She said there were a lot of migrant victims seeking justice and many will request help from union officers.
Mallorca will appear via video conference during one day of trial, since she cannot take five full days off work for the hearings. Her union representative will handle the rest of the hearings.