27 May 2016
The Malaysian government’s unwillingness to effectively address the human rights and gendered violations of one of the most vulnerable, and invisible workers in our households has not only increased the threats to the safety and security of domestic workers, but has effectively rendered them into ‘slaves’. On the contrary, the policies and practices of the government which institutionalized a culture of abuse, violence and slavery-like conditions for domestic workers has led Philippines , Cambodia and Indonesia in changing their policies in terms of recruitment, placement and employment of their women as domestic workers to Malaysia.
In actual fact, Tenaganita is elated that the Indonesian Government listened to the pleas of its citizens who were enslaved in homes and agencies in host countries including Malaysia. We acknowledge this critical move that is being made to stop the exploitation of its citizens as well as a move towards the Indonesian Government’s plan to professionalize informal employment.
The Malaysian Government however, instead of addressing with urgency the extremely dire issues and key concerns that led to policy changes in source countries, now has moved on to a more vulnerable and poverty-plagued country, Timor Leste.
Recently, the Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed acknowledged that “..Malaysian employers do not treat them (foreign workers) well. Employers don’t want to be held accountable for the welfare of these foreign workers” (Malay Mail Online 23 May 2016).
Clearly the above statement is reflected in the cases handled by Tenaganita, in which various forms of violence and abuse were evident in the daily lives of the domestic workers. In all the cases handled and managed, we found that their employers withheld the passports of the domestic workers. They were not given a paid day off for rest and none of the workers had a contract signed directly between them and their employers. Many were forced to work in different homes while others were forced to take care of the children, the elderly and the disabled in a single home. Domestic workers are expected to be on-call 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Most domestic workers were also exposed to hazardous working conditions. They were exposed to chemicals that are manually handled, and they face ergonomically problems from standing too long or for having to climb up high and unreachable spaces.
In a number of cases, recruitment agents were used by employers to further threaten the domestic workers into remaining submissive and from questioning the actions of their employers. Based on our investigations, some of the domestic workers said that on arrival at the office of the recruitment agency, they were completely stripped of clothing and searched
To be more detailed, just last year alone Tenaganita handled 16 cases of child labor as domestic workers, 13 missing domestic workers, 25 cases of sexual abuses, 22 cases of physical abuse, 21 cases of food deprivation, 7 cases of mental abuse that needed immediate psychiatric care, 14 cases of forceful extension of contract and , 62 cases of passports withheld and this year 2016, Tenaganita already received 27 cases of affected domestic workers from Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines and India.
Tenaganita has raised concerns regarding the treatment of domestic workers in Malaysia over the last 2 decades but no fundamental changes have been made by the Malaysian government. Though the Malaysian Government has been trying to work onthe Employment Regulations (Terms and Conditions of Employment) (Domestic Servant) 2014, there has been no implementation and very little effort taken by the government to increase the protection of the domestic workers. This is evident with the Employment Act 1955 failing to fully protect the rights of domestic workers, who continue to be recognized only as “servants” under the Act. The non-recognition of domestic workers as workers effectively removes these workers from the most fundamental protection accorded to other workers in Malaysia. This form of exclusionary practice by the government, and other stakeholders has left generations of domestic workers to be enslaved in Malaysia.
This is a clear reflection of the government’s lack of will to enforce any form of protection towards domestic workers. Shouldn’t this be of grave concern to the government of Timor Leste? Given Malaysia's poor track record in protecting migrant workers and the many gaps in the legal justice system to that end, the odds are against Timor Leste citizens working in Malaysia. It is a gamble that the Timor Leste government should not take, not especially when the lives of its citizens are at stake.
We therefore call on Timor Leste to rethink, sending its citizens to Malaysia until the institutional framework has changed to ensure the recognition of domestic workers as workers. It is pivotal that the rights of all domestic workers, as defined in the ILO Convention 189 for Domestic Workers are upheld in our policies, and that clear and effective regulatory measures and mechanisms are in place to stop this form of forced and bonded labor.
The government of Timor Lester must realize that they have equal responsibilities to protect the rights of their nationals. They must ensure that the domestic workers do not enter into debt bondage and their rights are guaranteed before they leave, through bilateral agreements.
Tenaganita will not tolerate any more abuses of domestic workers by employers, recruiting / outsourcing agencies and the State.
So as a step forward, we would like to remind the Malaysian Government that the solution to this unacceptable state of affairs is to critically address the root causes of the many abuses and exploitation, instead of preying on unsuspecting women in poor countries and bringing them as domestic slaves into Malaysia, for it would not resolve the problems of overcoming the shortage of domestic workers in the country.
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