Indians among foreign maids in Malaysia ‘victimised, unprotected’

September 22nd, 2008 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, Sep 22 (IANS) Foreign maids working in Malaysia are subjected to discrimination and violence and the law is too weak to help them, a series of reports by two major daily newspapers said Monday. The New Straits Times carried a report on Selvi, 28, born to an impoverished family in Andhra Pradesh. She was forced to marry her elderly uncle at 16. The marriage did not work out and she returned home only to find that her parents were too old and ill to care for her any more.

They took a loan against their house in order to pay an agent to find her a job in Malaysia.

Her eyes filled with tears as she recounted the nightmarish events that followed, the newspaper said, quoting her: “The agent told me there were many jobs in Malaysia and that I would be paid RM500 ($220 approx.) a month. I arrived in November 2006 and began working for a family in Pantai Dalam.”

Selvi said she not only had to take care of the chores, but also look after the family’s two young children.

Her day would start at 4 a.m. and only end at 1 a.m. She was made to hand-wash the clothes even though they had a washing machine and lay out her bosses’ shoes when they went to work.

She was only given leftovers to eat.

“After a few months, I found that they were sending my parents RM350 ($150 approx.) monthly instead of the RM500 as promised.

“When I asked my employer about it, I was slapped until my nose bled.” she said.

The abuse continued despite Selvi begging to be allowed to return to India until last year when she was thrown out.

Selvi’s experience has left her scarred and full of painful memories. “Malaysia is a horrible place and I never want to come back,” she was quoted as saying.

Malaysia, a prosperous Southeast Asian nation depends heavily on import of maids from several countries, Indonesia and the Philippines close by and from South Asia, including India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

“There are easily half a million “slaves” in Malaysia. Shipped in from other countries, they are, for a mere pittance, made to work insanely long hours, given no rest days and often kept closely confined. And all this happens within the walls of our homes”, the newspaper said in another report.

Domestic servant is one sector of employees who are excluded from all the benefits accorded to workers under the Employment Act 1955.

The act only provides them a recourse in cases of unpaid wages and if they are not given a notice period of 14 days prior to termination.

While cases like abuse are criminal matters and can be referred to the police, the lack of legal protection under the act means that there is no limit to the number of hours or the number of days at a stretch a maid can be made to work.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC)’s Indian origin vice-president A. Balasubramaniam said maids did not get any of the benefits normal employees take for granted.

“They don’t get set working hours, termination benefits, sick leave, rest days, public holidays, maternity leave, overtime and every other benefit a normal employee is entitled to.

“They are the most unprotected and vulnerable workers.” Balasubramaniam said.

Balasubramaniam said the government would do better to provide maids with basic benefits first instead of talking about giving them insurance and getting employers to bank salaries into the maid’s accounts.

“The most important elements are not being provided for. It is a disgrace,” he said.

“In Hong Kong, Indonesian maids have their own union to help them out but here, there is no union representation at all because they are not considered as ‘employees’ per se.

“We submitted an application to the Registrar of Societies and Home Ministry in March last year to allow them to at least form an association. The application was rejected in September last year with no reason given.” Balasubramaniam said.

If maids are allowed to form an association, said Balasubramaniam, they could at least negotiate better deals from employers, push for more protection from the authorities and lobby that the Employment Act be amended to include them.

Some shocking revelations that the report came out with was that the maids are threatened with the prospect of being sold into prostitution if they repeat their misdeeds, or make any mistake.

They are slapped and beaten in front of other women to make sure the rest will be intimidated, said Glorene Dass a Programme Officer working on the working conditions of the maids.

Maids are stuck in a Catch-22 situation because the moment they go to the authorities, their employers or agents lodge reports against them.

Their work permits are immediately revoked, making them undocumented workers and open to arrest by Immigration officers, she said.

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