Protecting the vulnerable

by Tunku Abdul Aziz
My Sinchew
25th Sept 2010

The Government of Indonesia is absolutely right to ban their nationals from coming to work as domestic servants in Malaysia until our own government is prepared to guarantee the safety and well being of these women. This is the least the Government of Indonesia can do to protect their people from being routinely and savagely abused by Malaysian employers. The excesses that are reported in the pages of our newspapers are a shameful reminder of our ambivalent attitude to human cruelty and suffering.

Maid abuse is not a Malaysian invention; it has, however, become an ugly hallmark of our domestic employment culture. There have been far too many reported cases of inhuman physical treatment of foreign maids to ignore. The number of unreported cases of criminal abuse is staggeringly high. What sort of society have we allowed ourselves to be turned into? We shower our animals with love and affection, and yet we cannot bring ourselves to treat those who live, while in our service, under our protection, with a little kindness and dignity. We are dealing with human beings who work under conditions of slavery, out of dire necessity, not of choice. With its own abysmal human rights credentials, we cannot expect our government to be too concerned over such trivialities as foreign worker protection and their rights in a supposedly civilised country. If we do not give a damn about how our own citizens are abused by abusive laws, I should perhaps lower my expectations as far as our vulnerable foreign guest workers are concerned.

What can we do to stop man’s cruelty to man, or in this instance, it is more likely to be woman to woman? Both the foreign maid and the local employer must be screened for suitability for a start. The employing household must be inspected to ensure that the maid will be properly housed and will work under recognised labour regulations. It is not unusual to come across maids working from five in the morning to twelve midnight without a break, seven days a week, and three hundred sixty five days a year. Historically, the days of slavery are over but it appears that as far as our maids are concerned, they have become the 21st century inheritors of a system long dead. They are expected to endure the unendurable without a murmur.

A law for the protection and regulation of working conditions of domestic servants is long overdue. Any such law that is promulgated must include a provision requiring employers to subscribe to SOCSO, as well as depositing with the government the equivalent of one year’s employee salary as security against a breach of the employment conditions. This will ensure that maids in service will be treated in accordance with minimum, acceptable standards. Strict enforcement will be difficult given the level of corruption in all Malaysian enforcement agencies, but we cannot use their lack of integrity as an excuse to do nothing to provide legitimate protection for our foreign maids against abuse in all its manifestations.

Many will no doubt scream blue murder at what they consider an “unfair” imposition on their rights to employ and treat their domestic servants as they please. They will say that a year’s deposit to be held by the government deprives the less affluent from employing maids. If they are incapable of meeting this and other conditions of employment, then obviously they are not ready to have
servants at their beck and call. We must not think only of our “rights” and not stop to consider their rights as well. I understand fully the genuine necessity of many working parents for engaging maids to look after their children. The law that I have in mind is not intended to prevent any person from employing maids. It is intended to ensure fairness and equity for both. It is time the rights of our employees were legally prescribed, respected and recognised. There is the other side of the “fairness” equation. What about protection for the employer? What if the maid runs away? Employing people is always a gamble and luck plays a part, but if you have taken care to choose your employee carefully, you can minimise the risk.

We are dealing with fellow human beings when we employ people and how we treat them and deal with their work as well as personal concerns will determine our relations with them. We win some and lose some as in any relationship. For many Malaysians, this is probably the first time in their lives that they have the luxury of domestic servants, and there are many practical adjustments to be made before they are comfortable with the presence of strangers in their midst, sharing both the positive and the negative aspects of family life. A live in maid is not every one’s cup of tea. It is certainly not my idea of domestic bliss.

I hope I will get all-party support to propose a private member’s bill in the Senate covering the employment of domestic staff. In the meantime I hope the Indonesian Government will not lift its ban on maids for Malaysia until the Government of Malaysia wakes up to its moral obligations. Our courts have a role to play in ensuring that the punishment fits the crime especially in cases involving the use of hot irons on defenceless humans.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 8:10 am

    I employ only local maid(s). I have paid them sufficiently well & treated them as part of family. So far they reciprocate and therefore I am lucky not to face any problem from this quarter. My understanding of this maids’ problem is therefore not first hand. It is from what I hear from friends and secondary sources.

    We have a situation arising from what appears to be Malaysians’ first problem of needing maids. Many husbands and wives now work in offices. It helps in family income to buy and enjoy the usual amenities. Having a maid to help out is part of these amenities. In the wider context we need them in many other economic activities: to work in palm oil plantations, construction at site, our eateries, petrol pumps etc. As ordinary there are all kinds of employers – those all right in treating their employees and others not so if not right sadistic.

    Then we have a system of recruitment often dominated by profit seeking scoundrels.
    Way before the foreign worker reaches our shores the deal is already made for every tier of people involved to have their pound of flesh. The foreign recruiter gets his cut and profit. The local one, working in conjunction with the foreign also gets his cut, which is substantial because he has the excuse that he needs to pay the authorities the levy. That part is official but what about the unofficial under-table to get the licence? All these work out to be anything from RM6 to RM12,000 at the onset loaded on and deducted upfront from the foreign worker’s meagre pay.

    As many foreign maids working here are poor in the first place – that’s why they have come here to work to send money back – there’s little trust on locals part that they will not steal money. Some anyway do. So the arrangement is that their salary, after all deductions, is something ridiculous like RM300 – RM600 is banked into their bank accounts and not given to them. They are not given any money since they eat in your home. The idea is that they have no cash, so that employers could rake through their drawers, suit case and see under their bed whether there’s any cash that infers that they have stolen from the employer. Many are also caught stealing, if not money then the fanciful panties of the lady of the house!
    Many maids are not allowed to venture out. They are not allowed to so unless there is a specific and compelling reason. The idea again is to ensure she does not mix with her ilk and be in the position to tell bad elements including some bad boyfriends how and when to break into the house to steal or rob. One wonders how they could actually go out of the house, where’s no money to even take a bus. And what happens if she meets some cop who asks her for her ‘papers’ and expect to be bribed if they were not to be detained?
    As there are those who have to work without rest in the household there are also some with nothing much to do and are very bored and get freakish thoughts. All are in a state of virtual imprisonment within the confines of the house. It is, all things considered, a kind of imprisonment and servitude – at last for many.
    Besides security issue there’s also hygiene issue. We worry how they treat our children, in our absence at work. Do they pick up food from the floor and feed them or sexually abuse them? Of course in the converse some employers will abuse the maids as well given the milieu that they are a class whose primary duty is to serve and help our convenience and should be punished if they do wrong. Its not just the foreign worker is vulnerable – we’re also vulnerable. How to balance? Tunku abdul Aziz law suggests the protection and regulation of working conditions of domestic servants is long overdue but how does one enforce it? Do the foreign maids being confined to the household with little money have literacy or friends to help make a complaint to the right forum?

  2. #2 by buy election on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 8:33 am

    a view about Indonesian maid abuse, but written in mandarin

  3. #3 by cemerlang on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 11:47 am

    There are two types of slavery. One is being a slave against the person’s will. Two is being a slave willingly. Slavery exists since historical times. It will never end as long as the affected people are not empowered. Nobody force 3rd world countries’ people to work elsewhere. So when they do work elsewhere, they must abide by the rules, regulations and laws. Cases of maids being abused. What about cases of maids abusing their employers ? If one is of a certain standard, then one should demand that the maid is trained and have a certificate to show that she can do what she is trained to. If you are of a high social standing, and your maid is just a little girl from a poor background and who never know about high society and manners and all that, you cannot blame her for making all the mistakes. You should blame yourself for not demanding for someone who knows what you want. There are many types of maids. In Western countries, they have nannies and they are highly specialised. Butlers are for the rich and they themselves are very educated and they do not simply serve. So you should have different categories of maids. 1st class, 2nd class, 3 rd class. The educated, the little educated and the none educated and what they can do. Just like when professional Malaysians go overseas to work. If they are equally good, they should be given the same regards as the rest of the people there. The same salary, the same respect, the same privileges and all that.

  4. #4 by passerby on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 12:07 pm

    The news about Hard to detect fake Datuks without national registry just remind me of the scam country of Nigeria where every scammer is either someone with a Dr title or a chief. Malaysia is fast becoming one with so many high title swindlers, cheaters and con-men.

  5. #5 by monsterballssgoh on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 12:54 pm

    testing from monsterballssgoh programmer, Thanks

  6. #6 by DAP man on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 1:06 pm

    “We shower our animals with love and affection,..”

    Sorry Tunku, you may be wrong!

    Malaysians are also cruel to animals. Local council workers are told to kill dogs by shooting or beating with rods or by strangling.
    How often have I seen boys stoning dogs, killing monitor lizards and throwing the carcasses on the roads and then watch with glee as cars run of them.
    Today our Malaysian society has turned real ugly in “soul and spirit”.
    This malaise is a reflection of the country’s morally deficient leadership.
    When integrity is lacking in the leadership everything negative will seep downwards.

    That’s why we have ugly drivers, ugly employers who exploit and abuse workers and maids, sale of fake datukship and Mykads, police abuse, MACC killing and cover-up, collapsing and leaking buildings, racist polices, cow-head demo, mass corruption, keris wielding, Utusan’s diatribe, etc etc.

    The Malaysian society is sick because the leadership and government is sick.

    This nation has no soul!! Period.

  7. #7 by BoycottLocalPapers on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 1:11 pm

    Indonesian maids are being abused and raped all the time in Saudi Arabia, but no one in Indonesia seem to mind. Why? Is it because the abusers were of Arab race?

    Maid abuse is part of Saudi way of life since the 7th century. In the past (that is before 1960s), maids were known by different name in Saudi Arabia – slaves.

    In Arab’s religion, slavery is okay. In fact, having sex with female slaves is okay to the Arabs. Find out more about Arab history if you doubt what I said. That is why the risk of a maid getting raped in Saudi Arabia is very high if compared to other Western country. As recently as the 1950s, Saudi Arabia had an estimated 450,000 slaves, 20% of the population. It was the British who ended slavery.

    The shameful fact that the Indons and the majority of Malaysians wanted to be more Arab than the Arabs is widely known.

    That is why when the Arabs abused the Indonesian maids, the Indons just close their eyes and pretend that nothing ever happened.

    KETUANAN MELAYU propagated by UMNO is modeled after KETUANAN ARAB.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 1:21 pm

    Why is obama the descendant of slaves keeping mum over all this nonsense?

  9. #9 by k1980 on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 1:35 pm

    What if Liz Murray had been borned in Indonesia or Malaysia?

  10. #10 by cemerlang on Sunday, 26 September 2010 - 5:21 pm

    African is a general race with a lot of sub races similar to the Mongoloid race in which Asians is one of the sub races. The population accepted terms will be Blacks, Afro Americans, Africans and the nationals they belong to. Certain words which we learned in schools will be considered wrong. That is why there is a need for an obvious big change in the US. Not all Indons are the type of Indons we are familiar with. There are many well educated, rich and have a good status Indonesians. Even in Singapore, you have Indonesians who are well off and Indons who are maids and labourers. President Obama is the President of US. The President of Indonesia is Susilo Bambamg Yudhyoyono. Indonesia can take care of her own affairs without interference.

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