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By Ajinder Kaur

Recognise domestic maids as 'workers', urge NGOs

Non-governmental organisations concerned with the plight of foreign workers today urged the government to recognise domestic maids as workers to enable them to be covered by the Employment Act.

"The first thing that has to be changed is that domestic work must be recognised as 'work' so that foreign domestic maids come under the purview of the Employment Act that provides for other workers," Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez said today.

According to Fernandez, the current situation today discriminates against foreigners employed here as domestic maids. They are categorised into an informal sector leaving them unprotected by any legislation.

"Most of these maids do not receive any wages in the first three to six months of their employment because they have to repay their employers who had forwarded money to the recruiting agencies on their behalf," Fernandez said.

She added that there is a clause in the Employment Act which specifies that employers are not allowed to deduct more that 50 percent of a worker's salary in a month.

"This can, however, only be applied to these domestic maids from overseas if they are covered by the Act," she said, after speaking at a "Consultation on Measures to Prevent the Violent Assault/Sexual Assault/Abuse of Foreign Domestic Workers" held in a hotel today.

The event, jointly organised by Tenaganita and the Labour Resource Centre, was aimed at addressing strategies for redressing the current circumstances of domestic workers. There are growing reports of horrendous abuse, sexual harassment and rapes of domestic maids by their employers.

Fifteen representatives from 10 organisations, including the Philippines Embassy, Suaram, Wanita Pertubuhan Jemaah Islah Malaysia, MCA Complaints Bureau and Amnesty International Malaysia attended the event.

"We analysed a set of four recommendations today which we will put into a memorandum to be handed over to the government, especially the Human Resources Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry," said Asian Partnership on International Migrant coordinator Saira Shameem.

The recommendations today included the needs to have a standardised contract for all foreign domestic maids, to develop more support groups and shelters, as well as to review the recruitment process.

"The government must coordinate a policy for a post-arrival orientation programme for these maids. The orientation should include the recruiting agencies and the employers as well," said Fernandez, adding that a number of organisations were willing to develop the content of the programme.

The programme would allow newly-arrived domestic maids to be made aware of the situation in the country and provide a forum to their queries.

"Indonesian maids are given a pre-departure orientation in their home country. The programme, however, focuses mainly on technical working skills such as how to use home appliances. They are also advised to be submissive and to obey their employers in order not to tarnish the name of their country," Fernandez said.

She stated that it was time for long-term comprehensive policies to be implemented.

"We do not want ad-hoc policies. There has to be preventive measures to address the problems, which have been arising since the 1980s," she said.