Category Archives: Domestic Workers

Maid about the house

A new report from the UN makes a strong case for respecting the rights of migrant domestic workers

IN THAILAND as in other countries of the region, employing domestic workers has long been a cultural and social practice as much as an economic one. In the past, such jobs were routinely filled by girls from the provinces and while often overworked and grossly underpaid, they were usually absorbed into the family, which provided them with some kind of security away from their own loved ones.

Today, domestic work has all but been taken over by migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, most of them in the country illegally. They too in many cases become part of the family but unlike their Thai peers have no security and few, if any rights.

Their plight is addressed in a research study recently launched by the United Nations Women Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. The publication, entitled “Worker, Helper, Auntie, Maid?”: Working conditions and attitudes experienced by migrant domestic workers in Thailand and Malaysia” makes the point that while there is nothing wrong with these workers becoming “fictive kin” – the term used to describe non-familial relationships – they should also be protected by an employment contract that recognises their human and labour rights.

The report makes for interesting and eye-opening reading. On the statistical side, it notes that approximately 73.4 per cent of all migrant domestic workers are women. The Asia and Pacific region is home to the largest percentage of domestic workers, making up more than 40 per cent of the global total. The region also hosts the largest share of women migrant domestic workers, at 24 per cent of the global total.

In Thailand, of the 250,000 migrant domestic workers from Laos, Myanmar Cambodia and Vietnam, many are unregistered and without a work permit. These housekeepers, nannies and caregivers are often caught between immigration law and employment law and excluded from labour rights and protections. As a consequence they are vulnerable to exploitative and unfair conditions.

In Thailand, employment conditions of domestic workers are mainly governed through labour laws. In Malaysia, however, immigration law is the principle instrument of governance, with labour law as a secondary focus.

Few Thai employers feel that a written contract is an appropriate right for a domestic worker, preferring to integrate them as part of the family – indeed, only seven percent of migrant domestic workers surveyed here had a written contract.

By contrast in Malaysia, even respondents who felt that domestic workers should be treated as part of the family were supportive of written contracts, which can be put down to the fact that contracts are associated with immigration requirements and explicitly tie workers to employers.

For the workers themselves, close relationships with their employees are governed by emotion and reciprocity rather than a contract. And, of course, these emotional aspects have a considerable impact on their experiences.

Perhaps that explains in part why workers surveyed for the study expressed a lack of enthusiasm for contracts, associating them with a lack of  freedom to leave their job, thus affecting their ability to change employers. A less surprising finding was that up to 90 per cent of migrant domestic workers in both countries are paid below the minimum wage.

“People treat you badly when they think that you have no choice,” says one Myanmar domestic worker interviewed for the report. Another, also from Myanmar, says, “They say if they give high salary, it won’t be a family any more”. A domestic worker from the Philippines has similar grievances; “I won’t complain. If I complain they won’t let me go out. When I go out at least I can find another employer.”

William Gois, representative of the Migrant Forum in Asia, says that change must begin from the workers themselves. “While history tells us that they struggle even if they work together to claim their rights, the ‘informed’ sector of society, such as feminist groups in Thailand for example, can bring their cases into the light.

“The close family environment is often created because the employer wants to hide something. He or she is worried that the migrant domestic workers will give away the family’s secrets or that they will run away with a boyfriend and leave the family in the lurch. This has to stop. Employers must create more space for the domestic workers, ensure they have days off and allow them to have a phone,” Gois continues.

“We need to deconstruct this ‘being part of the family’ mentality. It is symptomatic of the patriarchal system that can be traced back to the colonial period. We have to stop this attitude of ‘benevolent employer caring for someone with lower status’. It’s all very well to say, ‘well, she’s part of the family’ but you would never see a family member with this kind of job description. The employer is bringing an outsider into the family home so yes, it is important to build trust and confidence but in return the work space and the dignity of work that the domestic worker does must also be recognised.”

The findings and recommendations of the UN Women’s study are backed up by a 2011 Master Degree’s Thesis prepared by Ekachai Eutanpisit for the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. Titled “Maids, Migrant Domestic Workers in Thai Households and State Protection”, it points out that the exploitation of maids raises questions about the state’s effectiveness in embracing laws and the governmental mechanism in protecting the rights of this group of workers. The expansion of the role of working women and the greater economic value that this implies has given birth to a need for low-paid female migrants to take over the housekeeping duties. While many are treated well, their poor working and living conditions are often ignored by employers and government agencies, the international labour organisation and state mechanisms ineffectively regulate the power of employers in private homes.

Ruchika Bahl, regional programme manager – migration, says blame should also be placed on the media for painting such a negative image of migrant workers.

One of the key findings in the publication to come out of the press analysis was the strikingly strong association made between “immigration” and “illegality” in such English-language newspapers as Malaysia’s New Straits Times and Thailand’s The Nation.

The negative images and discourses disseminated in the media contribute to creating a hostile environment workers, the report states, adding that in both Thailand and Malaysia, employers surveyed associated migrants with crime and were concerned about their potential as domestic workers.

Some of these embedded stereotypes and damaging images need to be challenged. One potential avenue for such change could be through the inclusion of the voices of migrant workers themselves rather than relying solely on police and other officials.

Ultimately, the publication proposes that laws and policies regulating migrant domestic workers’ employment experiences be brought in line with relevant international standards, including ILO Convention No 189. In the Asean bloc, the only country to have ratified it is the Philippines. In addition, employers and the public need to be educated more broadly about the rights and contributions of migrant domestic workers, emphasising that treating someone as “part of the family” should include respecting their human and labour rights.

By: Kupluthai Pungkanon, The Nation

Published on: 12 Janurary, 2017

Domestic Workers from Myanmar Overworked in Thailand

In Thailand, thousands of unregistered domestic workers from Myanmar face daily abuse at the hands of their employees. But now, as Myanmar opens to reform, changes are coming slowly. Is it enough to draw back a future work force? Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

For the full report, please see the links below:

By: Steve Sandford, Voice of America

Published on: 22 March 2016

Asean worker influx stirs fear of ‘diseases returning’

Health officials warn that foreign maids and workers could bring leprosy, elephantiasis, etc

THE SOARING labour migration in the region following the implementation of the Asean Economic Community may increase the risks of people contracting many diseases in Thailand including leprosy, the Disease Control Department has warned.

If migrant babysitters and elderly caretakers come from neighbouring nations and have leprosy, there is a real risk the disease will be spread to the those under their care, department specialist Dr Krisada Mahotan said yesterday.

Krisada highlighted those jobs because they would involve very close contact between disease sufferers and Thais over a long period.

Medical experts from various fields came together yesterday to warn that there were no boundaries for pathogens.

“We are worried that the establishment of the AEC will push up the number of leprosy patients on Thai soil,” Dermatological Society of Thailand president Noppadon Noppakun said.

Leprosy is a contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.

Thousands of Thais were once infected with the disease each year but health authorities have successfully controlled its spread in recent decades. Last year, 187 were found to have contracted leprosy.

“Of that number, 39 were migrant workers,” Krisada said.

But the number of leprosy cases reported in Myanmar reached 2,950 last year.

“This means when more people cross borders, there will be a higher risk of leprosy in Thailand,” Krisada said.

He advised employers to be on the lookout for workers with skin conditions.

He said if a worker was suspected of having leprosy, the employer should bring them to a doctor for treatment.

“Don’t fire him or her. Treatments can cure the symptoms and prevent the spread of the disease,” he said.

Noppadon said the risk of elephantiasis, Leishmaniasis and sexually-transmitted diseases could also become more common after the AEC’s implementation.

Dr Rattiya Techakajornkiat, a medical specialist on STDs and epidemiology, said statistics between 2011 and 2014 suggested there had been an increasing number of Thailand-based Cambodian, Myanmar and Laotian workers with syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

Asst Prof Dr Jittima Dhitavat from Mahidol University warned Thais to take precautions against Leishmaniasis and elephantiasis.

“Leishmaniasis is no longer a disease only affecting Thais who travelled overseas for work or leisure trips,” she said. “Now, the disease affects even those who have always been in Thailand because of the growing number of migrants.”

She said illegal migrant workers usually did not undergo blood tests and might sneak into the country with elephantiasis.

“Mosquitoes are the carriers of elephantiasis,” she said.

Jittima recommended applying mosquito-repellent cream to the skin and using mosquito nets at home.

By: Puangchompoo Prasert, The Nation
Published: 26 March 2016


Chant for domestic workers’ rights at the AP regional preparatory meeting for HLD, Bangkok, 29-31 May 2013

Ms Jackie Pollock has attended on behalf of Mekong Migration Network the Asia Pacific regional preparatory meeting for the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, which was held on 29-31 May 2013 in Bangkok. During the meeting, a side event was organised to promote domestic workers’ rights and to promote ratification of the ILO Convention 189. Led by Ms Jackie Pollock and also MMN advocacy convenor Ms Pranom Somwong, migrant advocates rapped the ASEAN Chant.

Please find below the link to the video (which was sent by the UN Women) and feel free to circulate.

Chant for Domestic Workers’ Rights led by MMN


Despite ban by the law, domestic workers still go abroad, Eleven Myanmar

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

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