|Domestic Workers' Day, but no day-off for Indonesians|
By Susan Loone
KUALA LUMPUR, 28th August 2010: A regional NGO has reminded the Malaysian government that domestic workers, for whom weekly day offs was announced last year, still cannot enjoy a respite from work.
The Kuala-Lumpur-based Caram-Asia, which advocates workers' rights globally, said that a year ago the government had announced an amendment to the Employment Act for domestic workers to be entitled to a weekly day-off.
“However, nothing has materialised,” CARAM-ASIA representative Vivian Chong told Malaysiakini.
“The government had also been talking about securing a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) for Indonesian domestic workers that will improve their working conditions. But to date, no deal had been inked yet,” she added.
Chong said that employers should grant these workers the much-needed rest from attending to their “multiple employers” in private homes.
“How many of us can remain calm and composed taking orders from the old and young in a household twenty four seven, seven days a week, all year round?” she queried.
She said this in conjunction with the International Solidarity Day with Foreign Domestic Workers today.
Caram-Asia and its 35 members in Asia call on governments throughout the world to immediately amend national employment laws to recognise domestic workers, as workers have rights no less than other categories of workers, said Chong.
The International Solidarity Day with Foreign Migrant Domestic Workers was initiated in Sri Lanka following the successful Colombo Regional Summit on Foreign Domestic Workers in 2002.
Hundreds of participants from various countries, including those representing international UN agencies, had at the summit decided that Aug 28 should be used to highlight the plight of foreign domestic workers and the need to recognise their labour rights as being equal to other categories of workers.
Last year, numerous discussions were held on the new terms and conditions of a fresh MOU for foreign domestic workers in Malaysia.
The government has so far agreed to a day-off for them and for the provision of their own individual bank accounts. It has not conceded, however, to a minimum wage structure.
Indonesian domestic workers, who make up more than 80 percent of all such workers in Malaysia, on average earn wages of between RM400 and RM600 a month despite the long hours.
At times, they do not get their wages for six or more months as deductions are made to repay the often-exorbitant fees charged by recruitment agencies.
Meanwhile, Chong said that in a report on migrant workers prepared for discussions during the 92nd Session of the International Labour Conference (ILC 2004), it was stressed that foreign domestic workers were “among the world's most vulnerable workers”.
“Their working conditions foster an environment of dependence and isolation, particularly in situations whereby employers confiscate their documents (travel, work and residence),” she said.
“Workers are confined to their work place and are not able to leave without escort or for valid reasons; (have) limited interaction and contact with the outside world and most work 24-7, without a day-off,” she added.
“All this systematic denial of their labour and human rights dampens their spirit and physical conditions - causing mental instabilities - and (reduces) access to health care and well-being and further leads to the denial of their reproductive and sexual rights,” she stressed.
Chong said lengthy labour dispute, prolonged court processes and high legal costs for workers seeking to extend their stay pending the resolution of their cases have resulted in many workers giving up on seeking justice.
Employers are frequently known to have sought to ensure that their domestic workers remain isolated and are dependent on them by cutting off communications with their families, she added.
“Since the personal documentation of the foreign domestic workers is often withheld, many of them are arrested, detained and then deported from their host countries if they attempt to flee abusive or exploitative treatment,” she said.
“The cycle of abuses that are inflicted on migrant domestic worker will continue until governments protect the rights of domestic workers by guaranteeing their rights through legally enforceable mechanisms with due oversight and accountability,” added Chong.
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