by Brian Wong, South China Morning Post, 13 Oct 2021
A domestic worker has taken her Hong Kong employer to court over accusations that she was beaten, threatened and in one case, forced to eat porridge spiked with detergent.
Secondary school teacher Mak Pui-shan stands accused of mistreating Eden Gumba Pales at a Tsuen Wan high-rise flat on five occasions between October 2020 and May 29 of this year.
The 35-year-old defendant has denied one count of administering a noxious substance with intent to injure, one of criminal intimidation, and four stemming from assault-related offences. She faces up to three years in jail if convicted.
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Pales, 37, was subjected to prolonged physical abuse by Mak, who forced the Philippine national to toil for long hours, denied her days off and attacked her when she failed in her duties, West Kowloon Court heard on Monday.
Pales arrived in the city in March last year and went to work for Mak’s family of four after completing quarantine.
She said she was asked to work seven days a week, from 5am to midnight, with Mak barring her from leaving the house under the pretext of protecting her from Covid-19.
The first alleged assault came around October or November last year, when Mak was said to have pulled Pales’ hair and hit her head against a wall for forgetting to clean the children’s toys, the court was told.
Then, on a weekend in mid-February after Mak’s infant child refused a bowl of porridge, Mak allegedly poured detergent into the remainder of the dish and told Pales to finish it. Pales said she complied out of fear of being assaulted again.
But the abuse did not end there, she said. On another day in February Mak used her fingernails to scratch Pales on her back, and slapped her in the face and hit her with a spatula on another occasion in May.
Later that same month, Mak slapped and punched her again for purportedly failing to take good care of the baby, Pales said on Tuesday as she continued her testimony.
During the assault, Mak also allegedly threatened to withhold Pales’ pay, and even kill her, saying she was rich and could replace the worker if she wished.
“She [said she] could do anything she wanted. She could kill me … without [having to pay] damages,” Pales said through an interpreter.
Pales reported the case to police the next day, leading to Mak’s arrest.
She said she only plucked up the courage to report Mak 14 months into her employment as she needed the job to support her 16-year-old daughter and 71-year-old mother in the Philippines.
“I did not want to lose my job. I am a breadwinner. I tolerated her so I could save money,” she said.
Mak’s counsel, Vivian Wong Wing-man, told the court she planned to challenge Pales’ credibility in the next hearing, and to examine whether her accusations were spurred by ulterior motives.
Wong asked for an adjournment of at least three months, pending a ruling in another case before the city’s top court that deals with the scope of cross-examining witnesses.
Deputy Magistrate Sara Li Cheuk-wai said she found the belated application “undesirable”, as it would prevent Pales, who was still giving evidence, from leaving Hong Kong for good. However, she allowed it nonetheless, scheduling the next hearing for January 12.