©New Straits Times
(Used by permission)
by Marc Lourdes
• 'I never want to come back here'
• Linas survived five–year ordeal
• 'No report of maid being abused'
• Victimised, left unprotected
Working long hours, and sometimes without pay, some foreign maids are nothing more than modern–day slaves, writes MARC LOURDES
KUALA LUMPUR: Their jobs are supposed to include sweeping floors and cooking –– not waiting tables at restaurants, cutting hair at salons or harvesting produce at vegetable patches.
Yet, that's exactly what many maids are made to do.
Many employers hire foreign women as domestic maids, but make them work in places of business.
Maids, unaware of their rights or sometimes just afraid to stand up for themselves, comply and become a source of cheap, uncomplaining labour.
"Some employers engage women as domestic helpers but instead
make them work in restaurants, hair salons, pasar malam stalls or vegetable and
"Sometimes, even domestic servants who work in homes are made to do dangerous work like fixing roofs or inappropriate jobs like bathing the family dog when it is against their religion to do so," said Malaysian Trade Unions Congress vice–president A. Balasubramaniam.
"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."
If maids are allowed to form an association, said Balasubrama– niam, 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.
Tenaganita programme officer Glorene Dass recalled a case where several women were brought in as domestic servants but forced to work for more than 18 hours a day in a goldsmith factory.
"They were made to live above the factory and the windows of the factory were boarded up with plywood so that nobody from the outside could see what was going on.
"The women even had to dry their laundry indoors and were locked inside when they finished work.
"One of the women tried to kill herself twice just to escape the place," she said.
Dass said there were also cases where the employer "outsourced" maids to other family members.
"For example, the employer would send her to work in his mother's house, and then to his sister's house.
"We have had many documented cases like these."
The women are never paid a single sen extra for the additional work they do.
Dass said agents, when supplying maids, would tell employers that disobedient ones would be given counselling.
"This 'counselling' basically consists of threatening, punishing and abusing the domestic workers into toeing the line," she said.
"They are threatened with the prospect of being sold into prostitution if they repeat their misdeeds.
"They are slapped and beaten in front of other women to make sure the rest will be intimidated," she said.
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.
"The Employment Act gives them the right to redress but the Immigration Act takes it away by making them illegals living here," said Dass.
Foreign maids: 'I never want to come back here'
TWENTY–EIGHT–YEAR–OLD Selvi's life has been one of woe. Born to an impoverished family in Andhra Pradesh, she was forced to marry her elderly uncle at the tender age of 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 agent told me there were many jobs in Malaysia and that I would be paid RM500 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 4am and only end at 1am. 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 monthly instead of the RM500 as promised.
"When I asked my employer about it, I was slapped until my nose bled."
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."
Foreign maids: Linas survived five–year ordeal
WITH her heavily–lined face, frail figure and hunched back, she looks like just another sweet old grandmother.
But Linas (not her real name) is only 30.
She came to Malaysia in 2003 and worked every day for the next five years as a maid at a home in Rawang.
She would work from 6am to 11pm, doing all the chores. In all that time she was never paid a single sen.
After her two–year contract expired, Linas begged to be allowed to go home, but her employer forced her to stay on for three more years.
"They never even let me contact my family in Indonesia."
Early last month, she again begged to be released, only to have her employer threaten to throw her into the jungle instead.
"I didn't know what else to do, so I grabbed a knife and threatened to slit my throat.
"My boss panicked and promised to let me go," she said when met at Tenaganita's office recently.
Her employer gave her RM1,000 and handed her to an agent who was supposed to help her get home.
The agent took her to Johor and told her to wait at a house before disappearing.
Things got even worse after that. The people at the house took her to the beach and told her to hide in the woods until 2am, when she would have to swim out to a waiting boat.
Nobody bothered asking if she could swim and Linas almost drowned while trying to reach the boat.
She lost her remaining bags. All she could do was buy a ticket to Kuala Lumpur and seek help with Tenaganita.
Foreign maids: 'No report of maid being abused'
KUCHING: Miri police have dismissed an Indonesian newspaper report of a maid being badly abused by her employer in Miri just five days after she started working late last year.
Miri district police chief Assistant Commissioner Jama–
luddin Ibrahim said no report was received from any Indonesian maid either late
last year or this year.
"To my knowledge, there were no maid abuse reports from any quarters recently," he said when asked to comment on an online report on Friday.
Under the headline "Maid suffers in Malaysia, working for five days and already being abused", the report was about a 19–year–old girl from central Java who was said to be in a critical condition following the alleged abuse.
According to the report, the girl was offered work as a maid in Miri for a salary of RM400 a month.
Agreeing to the salary, she came to Miri with seven others
from her country at the end of last December.
She claimed that upon her arrival in Miri, she was sent to a coffee shop owner in Jalan Virus, the place where the alleged abuse began.
"Five days after working at the coffee shop, I was badly abused by my employer," she was quoted as saying.
The girl, who reportedly obtained treatment at a hospital in Miri, claimed that she was told to return to Jakarta to have better medical treatment.
She was said to have returned to Jakarta last Wednesday and was now placed at a shelter home there.
Foreign maids: Victimised, left unprotected
KUALA LUMPUR: 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.
This is the life of the domestic servant –– the 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) vice–president A. Balasubramaniam (picture) 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 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.
His views are shared by Tenaganita programme officer Glorene Dass. Dass said cases referred to Tenaganita revealed that maids were made to work at least 16 to 18 hours a day and most did not get any days off.
"The majority of the cases we come across are of unpaid wages, physical abuse, long working hours, no off days and of employers withholding the worker's passport.
"Withholding their passports, making them work such long hours, not giving them off days, withholding their wages, confining them to the home –– all these are a form of bonded labour, of slavery."
Dass said not all maids were angels but said their actions were caused by their working conditions. "That's why some react the way they do. Some run away, some attempt suicide, some react with violence."