Need for concrete action to prevent maid abuse

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Concerned with the abuse of foreign domestic maids, a problem which is not new in the country, non-governmental organisations working with women and migrant workers have renewed calls for the government to take immediate action to stop the violence.

"The violence against foreign domestic maids has been reported since late 1984 but it seems to have become very blatant and severe now," said Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez when contacted by malaysiakini today.

Fernandez said that there is no comprehensive protection for these maids in the country and this prevented the State from intervening and controlling the problem.

"There is no comprehensive protection for foreign maids in our country. These maids do not come under the provisions of the Employment Act for foreign workers because they are not considered workers," she explained.

Fernandez added that Tenaganita had submitted proposals to the government to address the matter as early as 1985.

"We have sent proposals to the Human Resources Ministry for amendments to the law way back in 1985. We proposed that domestic maids be considered workers and be protected under the Employment Act, but we have not received a response," she said.

Fernandez also raised questions about the 1997 Migrant Workers Bill which was proposed in 1996, but has yet to be implemented.

Ivy Josiah, the executive director of Women's Aid Organisation (WAO), believes that the government can do a lot more.

"The government could change the policies to prevent violence against these women and recognise maids as employees in order to change the present relationship to employer-employee and not master-slave," she said.

"The government could ensure that the charges (against the perpetrator) are heard quickly in courts and allow these maids to work while their cases were pending," Josiah added. Currently, work permits are terminated when the maid leaves an abusive environment, effectively preventing her from seeking work with another employer.

Josiah cited the latest case of Nurjanah Matyak, the Indonesian maid who was physically tortured by her employer for over a year. Nurjanah is currently seeking refuge with WAO pending charges against her employer which will only be heard by the courts in April.

"She has to stay in the shelter while her case is pending. She cannot seek re-employment and can neither return home. Who is going to pay for her fare?" said Josiah.

Josiah added that WAO had sent in a proposal to the government two days ago for the Human Resources Ministry to design a model employment contract by drawing up specific job functions of a domestic maid and guidelines on the obligations of an employer.

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