Category Archives: Domestic Workers
Even though the government forbid sending domestic workers to foreign countries, more and more of Myanmar women are going abroad as domestic workers via illegal job agencies.
“There are illegal agencies sending domestic workers to abroad. They not just send domestic workers but also any kinds of workers to abroad. There are a lot of illegal Myanmar domestic workers in various countries,” informed an identified officer from Labor Ministry.
He also added that it is difficult to punish the agencies unless a victim reports the incident.
“It does not matter if they go legally or not, we (the ministry) have to solve any problem they face while abroad. They should know if they are staying legally. We cannot enforce any punishment upon the agencies if there is no report,” he explained.
Even though the number of illegal job agencies has recently dropped, workers are still being sent to foreign countries illegally.
Most of the domestic workers are sent to Singapore and Thailand. The official explained that some of the workers go abroad with visit visa but start working once arrived.
The government confirmed that no domestic workers are legally allowed and it will stay the same in the future.
By Eleven Myanmar
Published on 23 March 2013
More than 4 million household maids nationwide will be entitled to at least one day off a week thanks to new regulations aimed at improving their working conditions. The amended ministerial regulations took effect on Friday.Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap signed an amendment to the ministerial regulation on Oct 30 to improve the protection of domestic workers’ rights.
Under the new regulation, domestic workers are entitled to at least one day off each week, plus 13 traditional paid holidays a year, six days of paid annual leave after one year of employment, and three days of paid sick leave a year.
The new rules also require employers to pay wages directly to maids who are younger than 18.
Employers are prohibited from paying workers’ wages to third parties including job brokers.
Pakorn Amorncheewin, director-general of the Labour Protection and Welfare Department, yesterday warned that employers would be fined up to 20,000 baht if they failed to give their maids at least one day off each week or did not pay them during sick leave.
Employers could face a jail term of six months and/or a fine of 100,000 baht if they failed to pay wages to their maids who worked on official holidays.
The new rules will not work without enforcement, said a human rights advocate, who has voiced concern about a lack of public information and protection for domestic workers’ rights.
Surapong Kongchantuk, of the Lawyers Council of Thailand’s human rights subcommittee, said although the Labour Ministry has amended its regulations to improve the rights of domestic workers, the public _ particularly employers and their maids _ were left in the dark.
He said no amendments were made to several key issues related to domestic workers’ rights, including their working hours and wages.
Unlike other workers in the formal sector, household maids’ minimum daily wages have not been protected, he said.
Mr Surapong said domestic workers receive wages lower than the minimum rate set by the government.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 14 November 2012
Without them, many working women could not possibly juggle between their family obligations and professional demands. Yet, domestic workers’ contributions to the advancement of women’s development in Thailand have never been recognised. Worse, as a result of a feudalistic legacy, many live-in maids still suffer abusive or slave-like work conditions with around-the-clock duties, low pay, little rest, and no welfare protection.Thanks to the latest policy move at the Labour Ministry, this is about to change.
According to the new ministerial regulations, it’s no longer legally possible to make domestic workers work seven days a week or 365 days a year without weekly days off or holidays _ as is often the case in many local households.
Under the new regulations, it is now legally mandatory to give domestic workers at least one day off each week. They are also entitled to overtime pay on holidays when they are asked to work on their weekly day off, traditional holidays, or annual leave. Like their peers in the formal workforce, domestic workers are entitled to 13 traditional holidays a year. Employers are also required to pay their wages during sick leave and provide payment for work termination.
True, many households already give their domestic help with decent salaries, overtime pay and a weekly day off. But this treatment is up to individual employers, which may come out of empathy or a response to the market forces of supply and demand given the severe shortage of domestic workers. When the new regulations become effective after being endorsed by a royal decree, the work conditions of domestic workers will no longer depend on employers’ niceties. Decent work conditions will become their legal right.
The Labour Ministry must also be commended for making it clear that migrant domestic workers are equally covered by the new ministerial regulations. According to Homenet, a non-government organisation working for the legal rights of home-based workers, up to 90% of domestic workers are migrants.
Despite better labour protection, much more work still needs to be done to ensure enforcement of the new regulations, as well as to improve their rights which still lag behind those of workers in the formal sector.
To start with, the new ministerial regulations do not specify domestic workers’ work hours which should not exceed eight hours a day or 48 hours each week. Nor do they include 90-day maternity leave, a prohibition against work termination due to pregnancy, and late-night work for pregnant workers. They are not protected by the minimum wage law either.
Despite the need for improvement, the authorities now have a primary responsibility to enforce the new ministerial regulations. Apart from making domestic workers’ legal rights public knowledge, employers who breach the law must be punished. Given domestic workers’ weak bargaining power, the authorities and human rights groups must assist with compensation in court cases to send a strong message to employers.
Domestic workers’ plight is women’s plight because it’s rooted in the belief that women’s household work has no economic value. As long as this cultural belief remains intact, working women will continue to struggle with a double workload at home and at work while domestic help, despite some legal improvements, will remain at the lowest rung of the work hierarchy.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 9th November 2012
Driving home the message at a public awareness campaign on the rights of domestic workers. Driving home the message at a public awareness campaign on the rights of domestic workers.
Treating domestic workers as equal human beings is not only required by law, it is humane.
SARAH* (not her real name) is Cambodian and came to Malaysia last year to work as a domestic worker to help support her farmer parents back home.
After one-and-a-half years, her employer started punishing Sarah for simple things like not folding the towels according to how the employer wanted, or if she went to bed early after completing all the household chores. Sarah’s working hours started at 5am and only ended at midnight daily.
The 25-year-old was also deprived of food and made to sleep the entire night next to the doghouse outside. She was also beaten on the face with a belt buckle and made to kneel on the floor while her employer kicked her face repeatedly while wearing stilettos.
A concerned neighbour saw Sarah’s bruises and immediately called Tenaganita, a non-governmental organisation for women, migrants and refugees, to report the incident. When Tenaganita rescued Sarah, her face was swollen and badly bruised, and she had bloodshot eyes from massive blows to her head.
Sarah was never paid by her Klang Valley-based employers during the duration and her passport was withheld by them.
Phally* (not her real name) is also a Cambodian whose employer was a man in his 60s. Upon arriving in Malaysia in 2010, her passport was handed over to her Malaysian agency.
Her employer made her work at both his house as well as his shoe shop in Ipoh, Perak, and she only slept between four and six hours daily. She was not paid her monthly salary.
‘We are paying domestic workers money, so they should be called workers,’ says Tenaganita programme director Glorene Das. ‘We are paying domestic workers money, so they should be called workers,’ says Tenaganita programme director Glorene Das.
After two months, her employer started to rape her. This occurred eight times, each happening when his wife was not around.
He would also ask her to sit next to him and watch television and then demand to have sex with her. When she refused, he would beat her and then force himself on her.
After the eighth incident, Phally, 40, managed to seek help from an Indonesian lady who worked at a shop nearby. Together, they contacted her agency in Cambodia which reported the incident to the Malaysian agency, which then contacted her employer.
No police report was made by either party and her employer scolded Phally when she returned to his house. After that, he did not rape her but instead forced her to perform oral sex on him.
One day, he choked her for not tying a flag at the shop. It was then that Phally ran away and headed to the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for help.
In both cases, the women did not want to pursue a case against their employers. Tenaganita helped them negotiate for their unpaid salaries and compensation for the violence and abuse they suffered.
From January last year to September this year, Tenaganita handled close to 200 cases of domestic worker abuse incidents.
Based on these cases, the top five violations faced by the workers were: withholding of passport by employer (100% of cases), no contract signed between worker and employer (100%), no paid day off (100%), unpaid wages (76%) and physical abuse (60%).
Other violations included overwork, insufficient food or deprivation of food, doing double jobs (at home and at the employer’s business), poor living conditions, and sexual assault or rape. Each case typically involved a combination of seven or eight different violations.
Many employers do not realise that under the Anti-Trafficking In Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007, abusers can be fined up to RM1mil or imprisoned up to 20 years.
“We need to recognise that domestic workers are workers, and they have rights,” stressed Tenaganita programme director Glorene A. Das.
When will it end? An eye-catching display used in the ‘Domestic Workers, Not Slaves’ public awareness campaign held in Kuala Lumpur last month. When will it end? An eye-catching display used in the ‘Domestic Workers, Not Slaves’ public awareness campaign held in Kuala Lumpur last month.
Part of Tenaganita’s initiatives involve asking the Government to change the terminology in the Employment Act, which lists domestic workers as “domestic servants”.
“(Regardless) of the terminology in the legislation, we are paying the domestic workers money, therefore they should be called workers. Also, if we continue to define or term them as servants, then the whole mentality of the working relationship also changes,” she added.
“It is important that we change the perspective of employers, who are the most important stakeholders in this action.”
As part of the company’s pro bono work, advertising agency McCann Kuala Lumpur held a public awareness campaign in collaboration with Tenaganita entitled Domestic Workers, Not Slaves from Sept 9 to16 at Publika Mall in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur.
Aimed at employers, the campaign sought to create awareness of the rights of domestic workers.
“Most employers do not know their responsibilities and workers’ rights. They have the mentality that the worker is their slave, especially having paid RM12,000 for her.
“The campaign has certainly planted a seed in many people. It has created awareness among employers that they should treat their workers better and, I believe, stirred people to do something about it,” Glorene said.
McCann executive creative director Huang Ean Hwa said the campaign was one small step towards trying to educate people about the rights of workers.
“It won’t change things overnight but we hope we managed to create at least some conversations about the issue,” Huang said, adding that the campaign also highlighted the fact that employers could get into trouble with the law if they violated the rights of the workers.
Tenaganita programme officer Liva Sreedharan said besides an increase in sexual abuse incidents, food deprivation was also on the rise.
“There was a girl who had only worked here one-and-a-half months but had lost 12kg. And that was not an isolated case, unfortunately,” she said.
Verbal abuse, which many employers do not consider a form of abuse, is also rampant.
“It lowers one’s self-esteem, degrades a person and affects their performance. Verbal abuse eventually becomes emotional abuse,” Liva added.
In May last year, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) stipulating, among other things, that workers get a day off a week, a minimum monthly salary of RM700 and the right to keep their own passports.
However, many agents tell employers not to inform the workers of these rights.
“Employers need to tell workers their rights, such as getting a day off, and then it’s up to the worker whether she wants to work on that day or not. If she does, we have to ensure she actually gets paid because there is nothing in black and white to show that she actually worked on the extra day or that the employer has agreed to pay the amount,” Glorene stressed.
In 2008, Tenaganita launched a campaign to advocate a day off for domestic workers.
One of the activities, held together with a faith-based organisation, involved employers opening up their homes for the workers to get together on their off day.
“That was one of the best practices that we have had. We had feedback that the performance of the domestic workers increased after that,” Glorene said.
Tenaganita also receives calls on its hotline from concerned employers facing problems with their domestic workers but who do not want to send them back to the agents as they might end up being ill-treated.
“We also get calls from members of a family who want to report a violation occurring in the family but wish to remain anonymous. We then go in and handle the case and that way, both the worker and the family are helped, so there are employers who are concerned about domestic workers out there,” Liva said.
Another Tenaganita effort is to push the Malaysian Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention that was adopted last year in Geneva (Malaysia is a member State of the ILO).
On June 16 last year, the International Labour Conference of the ILO adopted the Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers, which is also referred to as the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No.189).
Convention No.189 offers specific protection to domestic workers. It lays down basic rights and principles, and requires States to take a series of measures to make decent work a reality for domestic workers.
The Convention lists out the basic rights of domestic workers, which include: effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence; fair terms of employment; and decent living conditions. It also stipulates that “domestic workers must be informed of their terms and conditions of employment in an easily understandable manner, preferably through a written contract. and weekly rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours”.
It also states that domestic workers should be paid a minimum wage every month and that they have the right to keep their identity and travel documents in their possession.
“Our initiatives and the recent awareness campaign are all done for the girls who leave their homes and families, some as young as 13, to come here and do the chores of a 24- or 25-year-old. Awareness is the key to action,” said Glorene.
By WONG LI ZA, The Star Online
Published on 29 October 2012
East Asia’s economic growth has brought in its train large-scale migration of temporary workers from poorer to richer states.
The policies directed towards such migrants have varied from state to state, and these discrepancies have now been highlighted by a recent controversy in Hong Kong—the request by a handful of foreign domestic helpers to be granted permanent residence in Hong Kong. Whatever the outcome of their lawsuit, the request by the work-visa holders for permanent residence could have region-wide implications.
The positive aspects of temporary migration in Asia are well enough known: For the supplying countries, migrants relieve unemployment and provide a remittance stream of foreign exchange which supports consumption. For the receiving countries, such policies provide low-paid workers who do undesirable jobs, enable middle-class wives to work, and hold down manufacturing costs, helping industries remain internationally competitive—all without burdening state education and health budgets. Negatives include the breakup of families in the supplying countries and the creation of a dependency culture among remittance receivers.
There are negative economic and ethical implications for the recipient countries as well. In Hong Kong’s case, there are some 250,000 such temporary workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, and they constitute 7 percent of the working population. Singapore is even more reliant on this group for construction, manufacturing as well as domestic employment. Work permit holders, mostly those with low skills, are about 29 percent of the working population. Maids alone number about 200,000, or one for every five households. Indonesia is the largest source followed by the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Maids in Singapore are excluded from various protections under the Employment Act with no compulsory rest days, maximum working hours, minimum wage or termination notice, and they have no right to legal aid. Some employers use closed-circuit cameras to monitor their maids. Although violent abuse is vigorously prosecuted when reported, authorities suspect much goes unreported. Last year 2,530 Indonesian maids fled their employers and sought embassy refuge. A suggestion by a government minister that they be given a compulsory rest day was met with a howl of protest in the media. Pay averages about US $3,500 a year—at least according to a case brought by the government against maid agencies for wage fixing. Per capita GDP in Singapore is the equivalent of $43,000.
Nor is the large-scale temporary migrant phenomenon confined to the highly developed, rich city-states. In Malaysia there are about 1.9 million legal temporary migrants and perhaps another 1 million or more “undocumented workers,” the euphemism for illegal ones. Bangladesh, as well as Indonesia and the Philippines, is a major source for Malaysian plantations, construction sites, restaurants and households. Cases of abuse are frequent with the undocumented workers particularly vulnerable. Thailand relies heavily on Burmese and Cambodians for dirty and dangerous work. As of 2009 there were 1.29 million registered workers, but the actual total could be double that. Of the registered ones, 129,000 were domestic helpers. Migrants have replaced Thais as domestic helpers in many middle-class Bangkok households. Taiwan and Japan have much less reliance on temporary foreign labor; Taiwan employs some 90,000 from the Philippines, mostly in domestic work, but the 350,000 Filipinos in Japan are mostly in entertainment-related industries.
Singapore comes nearest to having a coherent policy for non-temporary migration, mainly focused on skilled and semi-skilled candidates for permanent residence. Despite a history of using wage rises and a strong currency to boost productivity, the city-state has become increasingly reliant on temporary workers. The Philippines tries hardest to offer protection and bans workers from going to some countries. But many recipient countries are reluctant to prosecute abuses.
Hong Kong’s permanent immigration is dominated by a long-established quota from the mainland of about 50,000 a year, mostly unskilled mainlanders. The program is administered by the mainland, and Hong Kong’s role is limited to issuing work permits and permanent residence rights to foreigners and renewable two-year contracts for domestic helpers. Malaysia and Thailand have policies on temporary migration, but enforcement is largely ineffective, exposing workers, legal or not, to widespread abuse. Some temporary migrants, mostly Indonesians in Peninsula Malaysia and from the Muslim Filipinos in east Malaysia, have in time become permanent residents.
Implications of this foreign-labor influx are no minor matter. Everywhere these pools of cheap, expendable workers, mostly without families, boost both the per capita gross domestic product of permanent residents.
However, ready access to temporary migrants depresses wages for unskilled local workers. As it is now, migrant laborers in Hong Kong do domestic work while locals sweep the streets or are unemployed. Access to cheap domestic help also provides standard-of-living benefits for those who can afford it. Thus, policies allowing temporary workers widen income gaps that even governments admit are a social concern. Hong Kong has the worst income distribution in the developed world, Singapore is not far behind, and inequality in Malaysia and Thailand is approaching Latin American levels. Access to live-in maids, as evidence from Hong Kong and Singapore shows, does little to raise low fertility rates of the more educated classes.
In the case of Malaysia and Thailand, low-cost, expendable foreign labor is a disincentive to investment in productivity, contributing to the nations getting stuck in the low- growth “middle income trap.” As for Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh and other supply nations, their provision of cheap labor to neighbors cannot be beneficial if it inhibits the development of their own export industries and regional trade.
Cheap temporary labor, lacking in rights, can have an eroding effect on social ethics in recipient countries. Even in Hong Kong, an administration with a poor record on matters of discrimination, fails to vigorously enforce laws on minimum wage or work conditions. The domestic helpers are relatively fortunate in having access to the courts, but still face anti-migrant invectives. In Singapore, helpers are largely reliant on the goodwill of employers for days off and freedom of movement. In Malaysia, horror stories of mistreatment of maids are frequently reported—and far more often doubtless go unreported.
Demographic changes in East Asia suggest that labor mobility will continue to grow. That makes it imperative that states have coherent, non-racial policies for temporary and permanent migrants which reflect overall economic benefit and the capacity of societies to absorb newcomers. Policies can only be reached and accepted by the public if there are open discussions based on facts and on the recognition that there are human-rights obligations to temporary migrants. Governments that fail to provide all residents with equal legal rights and protections from abuse or surrender to crude anti-migrant scare-mongering are eroding their own social bonds and respect for the law. This cannot be good for stability, which has underwritten the region’s remarkable progress.
Published Wednesday, November 16, 2011