Category Archives: Domestic Workers

Female migrants hidden impetus behind economy

Female migrants hidden impetus behind economy

We live in a world of unprecedented mobility with an estimated 258 million international migrants globally. Women and girls represent almost half of that number. All of them want better lives and are full of hopes, ideas and aspirations. This week marks International Women’s Day. It is a time for the global community to reflect on progress made towards empowering female migrants and protecting their rights.

Female migration is nothing new. Across the globe, women have been on the move for as long as men have. What has changed over recent decades is the proportion of women in the migrant workforce, their motivations to migrate, and the role they play in the global economy – trends broadly described as the “feminisation of migration”.

These trends are particularly evident in Southeast Asia, where migration was male-dominated up to the 1980s. Today, women account for 48% of the 9.87 million migrants in the region, and their prominence is increasing by the day.

Traditionally, women in the region migrated by association – often for marriage, family reunification or to accompany a spouse migrating for work. This continues to be case in Thailand, where many migrant women from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia follow their husbands to work alongside them in agriculture, construction sites and factories.

But the rising number of women who now migrate independently suggests that this is changing. For millions of women today, migrating for work is now an attractive option. It provides an opportunity to advance socially, economically, and professionally; to improve the lives of families back home; and to obtain empowerment and autonomy.

The contributions of these women must not be discounted. For countries of origin, female migrants are an important source of remittances. We now know that migrant women, despite earning less, send a greater portion of their income home more frequently and over longer periods of time than their male counterparts. These funds often support entire families and are an effective means of poverty reduction.

For the host countries such as Thailand, migrant women now fill major gaps in the labour market. In some sectors, the participation of migrant women is staggeringly high. The construction industry, for example, employs over 200,000 women – almost 40% of all migrant construction workers. Migrant women also fill huge numbers of jobs perceived as “low status”, including domestic work, caregiving, hospitality and nursing. While often shunned by locals, these jobs are crucial and demand for workers in these sectors will increase as the population ages.

Yet despite the important roles they play, migrant women continue to be undervalued by society. Even though they work equally hard and perform most tasks as well as men (hard physical labour being the notable exception), many continue to be paid less and have less access to training and careers. This is despite labour laws that clearly stipulate that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work in Thailand, as in many other countries.

Migrant women also tend to be relegated to gender-specific job categories in industries that are less regulated. These include domestic work and entertainment, where wages are low and protection is minimal, leaving many vulnerable to exploitation. Far too often we read horror stories of domestic workers forced to work excessive hours, denied days off, subjected to physical and mental abuse, and, in extreme cases, assaulted, sometimes fatally, by their employers.

The reality for female migrants is that their gender dramatically influences their migratory experience at every stage. Many are confounded by unique challenges, from unscrupulous brokers looking to mislead and cheat them before they leave the country, to gender-based violence during transit, to abusive labour practices and lack of access to social services in countries of destination.

Even in skilled professions, migrant women often find themselves structurally disadvantaged, doing jobs for which they are over-qualified due to discrimination from employers who view them as “less capable. We therefore need to recognise that such inequalities exist and work towards gender-sensitive responses that empower women and lessen their vulnerabilities. These include promoting safer migration for women, better regulation of their recruitment and deployment, and the introduction of policies that encourage their participation in all sectors of the economy.

Public awareness is also key in combatting the stigma attached to female migration. Protecting a woman’s rights and upholding them is not solely the responsibility of governments, international organisations or non-governmental organisations. It also is the responsibility of individuals who can be empowered to promote a culture of tolerance, respect and human dignity.

As we work towards the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to recognise the role that gender plays in the lives of migrants. The situation of female migrants demands our attention and should be at the forefront of global efforts to tackle inequality. We must make every effort to ensure that their voices are heard.

Written by: Dana Graber Ladek

Source: Bangkok Post

Published on: 9 March 2018

Myanmar Seeks Agreements With Southeast Asian Countries to Send Maids Abroad

Myanmar Seeks Agreements With Southeast Asian Countries to Send Maids Abroad

Myanmar’s Labor Ministry is seeking labor migration agreements with the governments of other Southeast Asian countries and territories to send women there to work legally as maids, a government labor official said Monday.

Government officials are hoping that labor migration will boost Myanmar’s developing economy by providing employment for impoverished citizens and increasing the remittances they send back home.

They are targeting Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, wealthier areas of the region where there is a growing demand for cheap domestic laborers to fill a shortage of unskilled labor.

More than five percent of Myanmar’s estimated population of 53.6 million people works as migrant laborers in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Middle Eastern countries, according to government estimates, with most working in fishing and agriculture, and women working as housekeepers and maids.

“We have been trying to sign memorandums of understanding” with those countries and regions, said Win Shein, director-general of the Factories and General Labor Law Inspection Department under the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population.

“Actually, we have been talking with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan for a long time, but this time it is more comprehensive,” he said.

On Nov. 14, Myanmar and the other nine member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Rights of Migrant Workers, an agreement giving migrant workers from other nations the same level of protection that they give their own citizens.

The agreement ensures protection regarding labor contracts and standards, access to legal representation, and fair treatment with respect to gender and nationality. It also prevents recruiters from charging excessive job placement fees, protects workers against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, and respects their right to fair and appropriate pay and benefits and their right to join trade unions.

The consensus is a follow-up document to ASEAN’s Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers adopted in January 2007 in Cebu, the Philippines.

“Myanmar workers need to have rights according to the law,” Win Shein said, referring to the necessity of having protection against abusive labor practices abroad.

Myanmar sent women to Singapore in 2013 and Hong Kong in 2014 to work as maids and housekeepers, but ended the program over labor disputes and rights violation cases, the Myanmar Times reported in September.

As a result, the Myanmar government in September 2014 placed a temporary ban on women going abroad to work as domestic workers.

Migrant workers from Myanmar, however, continued to flock to Southeast Asian countries as tourists after paying bribes to get around the ban and land work, making them vulnerable to traffickers and abuse because they were not protected by labor or migration laws.

Escape from poverty

Labor migration from Myanmar to other countries in Southeast Asia has been increasing since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in April 2016.

The state counselor, who is Myanmar’s de facto leader, has pursued polices to foster economic development, including those that secure livelihoods for Myanmar’s rural poor, and has sought greater integration with the ASEAN economic bloc.

Labor migration and remittances are part of the government’s efforts to facilitate economic development.

Myanmar received about U.S. $118 million in remittances in 2015, according to official estimates, though the former Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security said they could tally as high as U.S. $8 billion, according to a World Bank migration and development brief.

Myanmar is now the largest migration source country in the Greater Mekong subregion, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Geneva-based migration agency of the United Nations.

Workers are attracted by higher wages in other ASEAN countries as well as by an escape from rural poverty, Myanmar’s internal armed conflicts, and natural disasters.

About 70 percent of Myanmar migrants living abroad are based in Thailand, followed by Malaysia (15 percent), China (4.6 percent), Singapore (3.9 percent), the IOM said, with most coming from Mon and Kayin states in southern Myanmar, and from Shan state in the eastern part of the country.

The states have experienced clashes between ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar army in recent years, which have driven thousands from their homes to seek safety in other areas.

Singapore has become an increasingly popular destination for domestic workers from Myanmar, who are less expensive to hire than are workers from traditional source countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, according to a January report by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Domestic workers from Myanmar earn about U.S. $330 a month, compared to more expensive Indonesians and Filipinos who usually earn U.S. $385 and U.S. $460, respectively, the report said.

Source: Radio Free Asia (RFA)

Date: 11 December 2017

Reported by: Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service

Translated by: Khet Mar

Written in English by: Roseanne Gerin

Maid to Be Repatriated After Turning to Facebook for Help

A Cambodian maid who claimed in a viral Facebook video that she was stranded in Saudi Arabia after fleeing her abusive employer will be repatriated this week, the Cambodian ambassador to Kuwait said on Sunday.

In the video, posted under the Facebook account name “Maari Sanaa” on Wednesday, the woman said she had lost contact with her family years ago and appealed for users to track down her mother. She did not have a passport and had no idea how to get home, she said.

“Please all brothers and sisters help me, share it via Facebook,” she says in the video, which has been viewed more than 50,000 times. “When I was working in a foreign country, the [employer] cheated me. Didn’t give me money at all.”

One user claimed to have found her mother and pasted a telephone number in the comments. When reporters called the number, the woman who answered confirmed the relationship.

According to 55-year-old Los Nas, her daughter, Sos Rotus, is a 28-year-old Cham Muslim from Kompong Thom province. She was 16 when she migrated to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid, she said.

Before the video surfaced, Ms. Nas had thought her daughter was dead.

“We talked once and she was telling me that she was [being] abused, and I no longer received her calls ever since,” she said, adding that her daughter had not elaborated on the nature of the abuse.

Ms. Nas said she contacted the agency who had recruited her daughter as well as rights group Licadho, but neither could help her.

Tan Bunpa, Cambodia’s ambassador to Kuwait, the closest country to Saudi Arabia that has a Cambodian embassy, said on Sunday that he was collecting the necessary legal documents to issue Ms. Rotus a temporary travel pass.

Mr. Bunpa said Ms. Rotus had not contacted the embassy, and officials had been alerted of her plight through her Facebook video. The documents would reach Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, by Tuesday, he said, and she should be able to fly home within the week.

“Those Cambodian housemaids normally flee their employer without bringing their own legal documents, even passport, so it is hard for them to travel. And it is hard for us to help them,” he said.


By: Leng Len, Cambodia Daily

Published on: 21 August, 2017

Agencies With Government Ties to Send Maids to Hong Kong

Six recruitment agencies selected for a pilot program to send Cambodian maids to Hong Kong include two companies with family ties to top government officials that also participated in a similar venture with Singapore that soon became mired in controversy.

One of them has also had a number of complaints filed against it claiming labor abuse.

The Labor Ministry identified the six agencies at a workshop it hosted in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to allay fears about the deal it struck with Hong Kong in April to start sending domestic workers there.

Almost as soon as the deal was announced, rights groups raised concerns that it might go the way of a similar deal Hong Kong made with Burma in 2014 that quickly collapsed under the weight of language barriers and mounting fears the women were endangered.

The six agencies are Top Manpower, Anny Rita Best Manpower, Elite Manpower, Sok Leap Metrey, Ung Rithy Group and Win Win Manpower.

At least two of them are linked to top officials with direct control over immigration and labor issues. Sok Leap is owned by Seng Toussita, the daughter of Seng Sakada, director of the Labor Ministry’s labor department. Ung Seang Rithy, the sister of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department director, Sok Phal, heads the Ung Rithy Group.

At the workshop, the ministry’s deputy labor department director, Nguy Rith, said they were selected because of their experience sending workers overseas and for “not having any issues.”
Both Sok Leap and Ung Rithy, however, were among three companies the government chose to send maids to Singapore for a 2013 pilot program.

That program never attracted the 400 workers for which it aimed, however, after several women returned with claims of having their passports confiscated, and of being overworked and underfed. Several years ago, some NGOs also filed complaints with the government against the Ung Rithy Group on behalf of women who returned from Malaysia claiming debt bondage, forced confinement and being recruited while underage. No one was ever prosecuted over the claims, which the agency denied.

The government is touting Hong Kong as a far safer destination for maids than Malaysia or even Singapore, as foreign maids enjoy the same labor rights as locals, with guaranteed days off, generous maternity leave, mandatory health insurance and even the right to unionize.

“It’s the freedom city, the most [economic] freedom…in the world,” said Simon Liu, chairman of the Cambodian Human Resources Development Association of Hong Kong, which will represent Cambodia’s Labor Ministry in the city for the pilot.

“Don’t worry. One country, two systems,” Mr. Liu said, repeating Beijing’s policy to preserve Hong Kong’s economic and social freedoms.

There is still some confusion over when the first maids are likely to arrive. Mr. Rith said it could be as early as next month.

Mr. Liu conceded that fears of China and bad memories of Malaysia, which until recently was off limits to Cambodian maids because of several cases of abuse there, have dampened interest in Hong Kong. But he expected the first few maids to arrive by October.

An Bunhak, president of the Manpower Association of Cambodia, said he expected to see the first maids arrive in November or December, and to have up to 200 in Hong Kong by the end of this year. Mr. Bunhak, who also runs Top Manpower, said they were aiming to have 2,000 maids in Hong Kong within a year.
But Mr. Rith said it will all depend on demand, and whether Hong Kong families will want the maids Cambodia has to offer.

“Right now Hong Kong has a big demand,” he said after the workshop. “It’s a matter of whether we can send over workers to fill that demand, because their training and standards are high, so we need to work on meeting that standard.”

As for the spotty records of some of the recruitment agencies selected for the pilot, Mr. Rith said no one was perfect. “This is a small matter and has already been solved,” he said. “Every company, even with just three or four staff, you can still have problems, let alone when you’re sending people across borders.”

Mr. Bunhak, however, also speaking after the workshop, conceded there was room for improvement among some agencies, without singling any out, and that more regular meetings would be a good start.

“We need all six agencies to review the progress and consider what needs to be improved,” he said. “If you do not meet for three years, you never know what needs to be improved. You never find the mistake.”
Mr. Bunhak said he was also in the midst of drawing up an industry-wide code of conduct.

But labor rights advocates say what Cambodia’s foreign maids need most is a Labor Ministry that keeps the country’s recruitment agencies on a much shorter leash—a tough ask, they add, when some of them are bound by blood. They say making sure the agencies arm the maids with a working knowledge of the local language will be key.

The maids heading to Hong Kong are to get 854 hours of training before they leave, with 600 of them learning Cantonese, all squeezed into three months.

Chhan Sokunthea, who heads the women’s and children’s rights program for rights group Adhoc, said she was encouraged by what she heard at the workshop and that the Labor Ministry had stepped up its response to reports of abuse in recent years.

But she remained worried that the roughly $2,000 Cambodians will likely to have to pay the agencies to join the pilot program could drive many poor families into dangerous levels of debt and that three months won’t get them the language skills they’ll need to keep themselves safe.

“The Cambodian workers, they are unskilled, they cannot read and write. It’s very difficult for them,” she said. “They cannot read or write Cambodian. How can they learn Chinese in a few months?”

The Labor Ministry insists the training program being set up for the Hong Kong pilot will be better than those that came before. Hong Kong’s labor and welfare secretary, Law Chi-kwong, is set to arrive in Phnom Penh today to meet with Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng about the pilot and tour the six participating recruitment agencies.


By: Zsombor Peter and Hang Sokunthea, Bangkok Post

Published on: 10 August, 2017

Underage maids from Myanmar seek help in Singapore

About 240,000 foreign maids work in Singaporean homes, but those from Myanmar are among the most vulnerable.

Girls from Myanmar, some as young as 15, continue to work illegally as maids in Singapore, despite both countries banning the practice, NGOs say.

Since 2014, the government of Myanmar has imposed a ban on domestic workers going to Singapore.

But a shelter for domestic workers in Singapore is reporting increasing numbers of women from Myanmar seeking help. Some of them are teenagers. Under Singaporean law, foreign domestic workers must be at least 23 years old.

“There are also workers who are definitely under 18. It seems to be a particular problem with the Myanmar women” John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

Last year, 272 maids from Myanmar sought help at the shelter, up from 155 in 2015.

“We are seeing more Myanmar domestic workers coming for help,” says Chok. “Previously, it used to be more Filipinos, Indonesians. There are some weeks in our shelter where up to 40 percent could be from Myanmar.”

101 East investigation revealed that recruitment agents in Myanmar were giving girls passports with fake birthdates before sending them to work in Singapore.

A 15-year-old girl told 101 East she was given false documents and told to lie about her age before she was taken to Singapore, where she says she looked after two children and was forced to do housework until late at night.

A survey by Transient Workers Count Too, another non-governmental organisation, last year found that 16 of the 55 Myanmar domestic workers they interviewed had been under the age of 23 when they arrived in Singapore.

“There are also workers who are definitely under 18, It seems to be a particular problem with the Myanmar women.” says the group’s John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

Ineffective mechanisms

Several cases involving maids from Myanmar working in Singapore have been reported by the Myanmar media in recent months.

In June, a 25-year-old Myanmar woman reportedly died after plunging from the 18th floor of an apartment building in Singapore.

In another recent case, it was reported that a 15-year-old domestic helper sustained spinal injuries after falling from her employer’s ninth-floor apartment.

Chok says little has changed since the Myanmar government banned domestic workers from coming to Singapore three years ago.

” The women who most need help are the ones who are least able to access it ” John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

“We’re not seeing the ban have any real impact on the ground in terms of domestic workers being allowed to come to Singapore,” she says. “For us, it’s really business as usual.”

The Myanmar Embassy in Singapore did not respond to requests for comment.

But the Singapore government’s Ministry of Manpower said the number of underage foreign domestic workers was “low”.

A Ministry spokesperson said in a statement that it was “important for authorities in the source country to ensure the accuracy of the foreign domestic worker details in the passport”.

The government also expects employment agencies to carry out checks and interviews and examine workers’ documents.

From 2012 to 2016, the ministry took action against nine employment agencies that failed to comply with regulations.

The ministry’s statement did not specify what action was taken, but agencies can face fines of up to S$5,000 ($3,668) and/or six months in prison, as well as having their licence revoked.

Other measures to detect cases of underage maids include the government conducting interviews, particularly with “those who look relatively young”, and a mandatory “settling-in programme” to educate new maids about the age requirements, the statement said. 

‘Stiff fines or jail terms’

About 240,000 foreign maids work in Singaporean homes. Most come from the Philippines and Indonesia but those from Myanmar are among the most vulnerable, according to NGO workers.

Chok says domestic helpers from Myanmar are less likely to speak English and often have no rest days stipulated in their contracts.

“That really adds to their isolation,” she says.

The Myanmar women who come to the NGO’s Singapore shelter report problems ranging from unpaid wages to verbal, physical and sexual abuse by their employers.

Some also complained that their employers did not give them sufficient food, with some given only bread to eat.

“I asked them, ‘What do you do to stave off hunger?’ and they said they just drink water,” Chok says.

Gee, from Transient Workers Count Too, says Myanmar domestic workers are more likely to be confined to their employer’s home and to not have access to a phone.

“The women who most need help are the ones who are least able to access it,” he says.

The Ministry of Manpower said employers or agencies who abuse maids face “stiff fines or jail terms”.

“Abusers of foreign domestic workers face higher penalties of up to 1.5 times the punishment and may be banned from hiring foreign domestic workers in the future,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, at the shelter run by HOME, there is not enough space to accommodate all of the women seeking help, according to Chok.

“It’s running at full capacity always,” she says.

By: Liz Gooch, Aljazeera

Published on: 8 August, 2017

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