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Hong Kong Migrant Workers Undeterred by Police Intimidation

December 10, 2005

by Becky Tarbotton

Two days before the opening of the Ministerial Hong Kong police have ratcheted up intimidation of migrant workers in the city - today raiding the offices of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Association and demanding to see the passports of all the group gathered to prepare for tomorrow's rally.

Hong Kong is home to well over 250,000 migrant workers, most of them domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, and most of them women. The situation here is a familiar tale of high agency rates, low pay and few rights. Rafi, an Indonesian organizer in Hong Kong for the ministerial is clear about the connections between the WTO and the plight of migrant workers in Hong Kong. He says, "The farmers are forced off their land and so they move to the cities to find jobs. They can't find work, so they sign up with an agency that will find them a job overseas, but they usually have to pay the agency seven months worth of wages which leaves them with huge debts and no choice but to stay even if the work is very bad."

But in spite of this, the migrant workers here are a vocal group, dedicated to standing up for their rights with passion and creativity - many of them spending their one day off a week volunteering with one of the four grassroots groups that they have created to advocate for better working conditions and challenge the system that undermines their livelihoods at home and their rights in this country.

In keeping with this, the scene at the Indonesian Migrant Workers offices tonight was a welcoming bustle of high spirits, colourful banners and industrious art making - a compelling example of the other world that is possible and a foreshadowing of the wonderful events to come this week.

Becky Tarbotton a Fellow at the Oakland Institute, is in Hong Kong working with social movements and grassroots opposition to the WTO.

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