Celebration and protest as Joko visits Hong Kong

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (in white meeting workers from Indonesia at an event in Hong Kong.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (in white meeting workers from Indonesia at an event in Hong Kong.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG • Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was greeted by a mixture of celebration and protest in Hong Kong yesterday with calls to improve working conditions for the city's army of foreign maids.

There are around 170,000 Indonesians living in Hong Kong, many of them employed as domestic helpers, and concern over exploitation is growing after a string of abuse cases.

In a rock concert atmosphere, Mr Joko was greeted with exuberant music and dance shows, including some performances by helpers themselves, at the city's Asia World Expo yesterday.

The more than 5,000-strong crowd were mainly women working as maids who said they were excited to see the leader - but also called on him to help them.

"I hope the President can make our workplace safe," domestic helper Miasih told Agence France- Presse, saying her employer makes her work in two apartments.

Some protesters gathered outside and others marched to the Indonesian consulate, calling for better migrant rights.

Mr Joko, on a two-day visit that will include meeting the city's business leaders, did not address the issue in his speech to the helpers. Instead, he praised Indonesia's economy and diversity.

"Don't let small things cause friction, clashes, division," he said.

Demonstrators criticised Mr Joko for failing to address working conditions.

"We are already isolated because of the way we work and where we are, but the government, even when they're in front of us, does not think our voices are important," said former domestic worker Eni Lestari, now chairman of the International Migrants Alliance.

There are more than 300,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Celebration and protest as Joko visits Hong Kong'. Print Edition | Subscribe