Thursday, 28 August 2008

International Solidarity Day with Foreign Domestic Workers

CARAM Asia Statement

AMMAN, JORDAN, 28 August 2008: We are over 30 women and men from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Jordan, Lebanon, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong SAR and Nepal. We have met in Amman, Jordan from the 25th to 28th of August 2008, for the Roundtable Meeting with multi-stakeholders on Foreign Domestic Workers’ issues in Jordan and the Campaign Strategies Workshop, organised by CARAM Asia, for its on-going “One Paid Day off Weekly” for domestic workers campaign. We have analysed the impact of labour migration for domestic work on women foreign domestic workers in the Middle East region. We are aware that the undervaluation of women’s work, the sponsorship system that is widely practiced in the region, and the remittance driven labour sending policies of origin countries make women FDWs susceptible to abuse, violence, and human rights violations, including their health rights, at all stages of migration.

This consultation and campaign strategies workshop takes forward the reflections and processes that were initiated when the campaign launched, at the third ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC 3) in Singapore, a call to action for the recognition of domestic work as work by including this occupation in the national labour laws of countries. Such a call to action can only be achieved through the legal and social recognition of domestic work as work, subsequently realising the human and labour rights of domestic workers.

We, foreign domestic workers and strong advocates/activists of FDWs’ rights, express solidarity with the decades old, yet still ongoing, struggles of women domestic work against strong patriarchal systems that do not value women’s labour, reflected in the lack of legal protection for domestic workers, both foreign and national workers alike.

This has been an occasion for women domestic workers, community-based migrants’ organisations, migrant support groups, and non-governmental organisations to come together to reflect on and highlight the problems being faced by women FDWs, due to poverty and under or unemployment, being made worse by the rapid economic globalisation processes in origin countries, intensifying the women’s labour migration process.

It has been an occasion for us to reflect on the vital roles women FDWs play for the well-being of their families, communities, and the families that they work for, for the economies of both origin and destination countries, and within social reproduction systems of our society, all roles that need better recognition and valuation. While they provide a great deal for the well-being and function of families and society at large, their own health rights and the quality of life are extremely comprised due to the lack of labour rights in the occupation they work.

It has been an occasion for us to define strategies to counter the negative experiences of women FDWs, to define our vision of migration with rights and dignity, to draw strength from each other, and to bring synergy between our struggles across the regions.

We acknowledge that the cause of women domestic workers is gradually being recognised and that support is being extended by various groups. We are aware that there are some good employers, just as there are very many abusive employers. We do not demonise employers while we critique the structure in which labour migration for domestic work is being operated. The cyclical short-term structure of migration facilitates the enrichment of a handful of recruitment agencies and allows unscrupulous middle men to operate ruthlessly at the expense of foreign domestic workers. At the same time, guilt can also be directed towards origin governments who have been inefficient, or deficient, in protecting their citizens abroad.

Our Campaign demands that:

  1. Governments enact laws and adopt other measures to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected legally, and to change the national labour laws that do not protect domestic workers’ rights;
  2. The United Nations and International Labour Organisation (ILO) develop new mechanisms for the protection and realisation of domestic workers’ rights;
  3. Member States ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and
  4. Governments develop redress mechanisms for more effective accountability of non-State actors (employers, recruitment agencies, brokers) for violations against domestic workers.

We call on support from everyone who believe in equality and justice for domestic workers, both national and foreign, by endorsing this statement on this important day for FDWs.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Join Forces to Protect Foreign Domestic Workers

AMMAN, JORDAN 26 August 2008: Migrants rights representatives from 15 countries today called for greater cooperation between the Jordanian authorities, international agencies and civil society for the protection of foreign domestic workers.

During a high-level roundtable forum on the situation of foreign domestic workers, the representatives welcomed Jordan’s recent move to amend the labour law to include the protection of all domestic workers but emphasised the need for implementation to begin as soon as possible. They were speaking on behalf of domestic worker associations and rights groups from origin and destination countries in Asia and the Middle East.

“We urge the Jordanian government to speedily enact the relevant by-laws to ensure the protection domestic workers, both Jordanian and foreign. Such a standardised and efficient approach will address the serious labour and human rights violations that too many migrant workers experience. It will also allow problems or disputes to be resolved before they become critical,” said Cynthia Gabriel, Regional Coordinator of CARAM Asia, a leading regional network working on the rights of migrant workers.

Last month, His Royal Highness King Abdullah the 2nd signed this amendment which was gazetted on August 17th 2008. This has coincided with growing public awareness of cases in which foreign domestic workers have been subjected to serious violations including physical abuse, non-payment of wages and denial of rest days.

“We welcome this positive development which will strengthen Jordan’s commitment to human rights and justice. We urge the Royal Jordanian government to encourage other countries in the region to adopt similar measures for the protection of domestic workers,” said Asem Rababa, President of the ADALEH Center for Human Rights Studies.

“We hope that the Jordanian government will work closely with civil society and migrant worker groups to ensure effective implementation of the law. Allowing migrant workers to unionise would help in this process,” said Eni Lestari, representative of Asian Migrant Coordination Body.

The high-level roundtable forum which was hosted by the ADALEH Center for Human Rights Studies and co-organised by UNIFEM and CARAM Asia was attended by representatives of the Jordanian government, the Solidarity Center, CARITAS Lebanon as well as groups from Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burma, Hong Kong SAR, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Thailand.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

"Wage Increase Delayed is justice Denied"

Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB-IMA)Members from Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines(The AMCB is a member of the International Migrants’ Alliance or IMA – a global alliance mainly of grassroots migrant organizations from 25 countries) Press Release01 July 2008For reference: Eni Lestari Spokesperson, Tel. No.: (852) 96081475

“Wage increase delayed is justice denied”Foreign maids march to press for immediate wage hike “Each day that a wage increase for migrant workers is delayed is a denial of justice.” This was declared today by Eni Lestari, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB) as hundreds of foreign domestic workers carried the call for an immediate wage increase for FDWs and the legislation of a minimum wage for all workers in the July 1st demonstration. “We are into the second half of the year already and still the HK government refuses to give us our share of the economic rebound through a substantial wage increase. Every day, we labor under the same condition, we work even longer hours, the HK government charges us the same fees and our plight is unchanged. The government shows its utter unconcern and disregard to our situation as the days go by,” she added. Early in June, news broke out that the government shall grant a HK$50 wage increase for FDWs. However, it remains unconfirmed up to now. For the past years, the results of the annual review of FDWs minimum allowable wage are announced on the second quarter of the year. “Now, the government is not only denying us a significant wage increase. It is withholding its decision that will result to the exemption of thousands more FDWs from any addition to the minimum wage for their next contract,” Lestari lamented. According to Lestari, hundreds of FDWs process their contracts everyday. She said that for Filipinos alone, a minimum of 400 contracts are processed everyday. This figure, she said, is roughly the same with Indonesians. “Each day, more and more of us have to process a contract under the current MAW level and cannot expect a wage hike for the next two years. With inflation and the increase in prices of many basic goods in Hong Kong, the deterioration of the economic condition of our families back home , and the dwindling value of our remittance, how can we survive without a wage hike?” she remarked. AMCB submitted its petition for a wage increase early this year. The group cited the economic recovery of Hong Kong as shown by its HK$100 billion budget as one of the major reasons for the wage increase. Lestari averred that the refusal of the government to grant the increase for FDWs also “reeks of discrimination.” “We are the first to suffer the brunt of policies that impact our livelihood. But we are also the last to be given even a little reprieve from hardships,” she said. Lestari, who is also the chairperson of the newly-founded International Migrants Alliance or IMA, relayed that they shall expose the HK government’s “insensitivity” to the migrant workers in the international community. “We shall gather the support of members of the IMA to put more pressure to the government to give in to our demands. Wage increase is a just fight for all migrants,” she remarked. The IMA is an alliance of more than 100 organizations of migrants, mostly grassroots, from 25 countries. It was established recently in HK and has resolved to launch campaigns on wage and job security among others. “The benefits of the economic rebound still have not trickled down to grassroots level. We still have to contend with hardships brought by past massive wage cuts, insignificant wage increases, and the continued collection of the levy. It is high time for the government to give us justice and answer our wage increase demand,” Lestari concluded.#

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Workers without Workers’ Rights


On the occsation of the International Labour Day , CARAM Asia urges the governments of both origin and destination countries to extend key labour protections to domestic workers and recognise domestic work as work.
Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) represent the most vulnerable category of workers. Being excluded from legally protected occupations, women domestic workers are isolated from mainstream labour, social and health protection laws and policies. This means domestic workers do not enjoy the minimum standards of employment that other workers do, such as a weekly day off, standard working hours, compensation for workplace injury and a minimum wage. The lack of legal protection for FDWs leads to numerous human rights violations resulting in a serious toll on their health and wellbeing. This violation of workers’ rights to adequate rest hours, appropriate working conditions, and a work environment free of abuse directly contribute to their poor state of health. The extreme cases of workplace hazards to which FDWs are exposed during their employment are evident in the growing incidences of death from workplace accidents or suicide. These abuses must be halted.
The majority of FDWs leave home in their prime age of reproduction. Hindered by language barriers and a lack of information and awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues, FDWs are vulnerable to communicable diseases, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. This lack of awareness, as well as personal power, to pursue safe sex leads to ill health and an increased risk of sexual violence.
FDWs are confined to their employer’s household and not being able to access to health services should they face abuse. The home has been characterized as a sanctuary for women’s human rights violators as home/domestic workers are isolated from public scrutiny and abuses are done with impunity. Unless the home is recognized as a workplace and those employed within are protected in terms of their labour and human rights, the problem will continue.
FDWs contribute to the wellbeing of their family through remittances and by providing labour to nurture the family of their employers. Therefore, their social reproductive role contributes to the sustainability of economies in both home and destination countries. However, most destination countries’ social security schemes, insurance for workplace injury, and access to employment provident funds, exclude them from social protection. In many countries, domestic workers are considered “servants” in the Employment Act and by default domestic workers are not granted their labour rights.
It is the responsibility of both source and destination countries to ensure the fundamental labour and health rights of domestic workers are guaranteed. The violation of FDWs rights occurs at all stages of the migration process. Countless cases and numerous forms of violation happen at the hands of recruitment agencies that must be subjected to prosecution and scrutiny by governments to ensure that abuse will stop. Also, it is essential that the rights of FDWs to redress must be recognised and that her right to stay and work during the time of a pending case must be ensured. Otherwise, her right to redress is only on paper but not followed in practice. An equally significant matter is the need for States to develop a policy and invest in programs for reintegration, skill training, and financial saving for returnee FDWs so they will not have to migrate time and again. Governments have to ensure that migration for employment as domestic workers must become a choice, not because of the lack of option.
On Labour Day, CARAM Asia reaffirms its commitment to work towards reclaiming the rights of FDWs while calling on the governments involved in the migration process to:
· Recognise domestic work as socio-economic activity by enacting labour laws to protect domestic workers or by amending labour laws that do not protect their rights,
· Adopt specific policies to provide FDWs’ access to health care services and social security,
· Ensure that FDWs enjoy the universal right to free association and are legally permitted to join unions like workers from other sectors,
· Halt mandatory health screening of migrants that lead to deportation,
· Abolish the employer sponsored visa system for domestic workers that leads to an unregulated work place, and
· Develop enforcement mechanisms for States and non state actors who violate FDWs’ rights.

'Battle not won' for rest days


THEY are often seen as hired help to be squeezed for their wages' worth — but foreign domestic workers are themselves parents or children of families back home, seeking a better life by working here.
That is the message three civil societies hope to communicate to young people here, so that they will see in a different light the maids caring for their needs, sometimes without any time off.
"We are going to go to schools and we will ask them to think about the auntie who brings them to school, who cooks and cleans for them, whether she has any siblings or children," said United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore president Saleemah Ismail. "We want the schoolchildren to think about them as human beings who deserve rest too."
Such school talks are one of the ways in which Unifem, along with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), hope to change the way Singaporeans view the issue of giving the 170,000 foreign domestic workers here a rest day from their labours.
Joining forces for the first time, the three non-governmental organisations will roll out a campaign from tomorrow.
Since the introduction of the standard maid employment contract by industry accreditation bodies, there has been a perception that "the battle has been won", said TWC2 president John Gee. "People said, we don't need to campaign anymore," he said at a media briefing yesterday. "But we are not seeing the radical transformation that we were expecting with the contract."
Citing figures from Today's recent poll of 50 employers — which showed 40 per cent of them did not give their maids any rest days — Ms Ismail felt that more public education was needed to clarify employers' misconceptions about rest days. The campaign also features a website, a one-stop resource featuring advice on rest days and activities that maids can take part in on their days off.
Home executive director Jolovan Wham said while most Singaporeans were clear about their feelings regarding maid abuse, they were less vocal about rest days. "They don't view it as very important, and we want to encourage people to speak up," he said.
One way the public can do so is by putting their names on an online supporter list for rest days for maids.
But are such moves enough — given that there have been similar efforts in the past? Ms Ismail said this first-time three-way collaboration "might have more impact".
"It's too early to tell whether it's enough. It will take partnership between all parties for it to really happen," she added.
Indeed, throughout the year, the three groups will engage employment agencies in dialogue to help promote better practices — such as having agents recommend to employers that they give their maids a day off.
Mr Gee said: "They are the first point of contact by employers and are seen as an authority, so their practices are very important. We hope to address what holds them back from doing so."
In a letter to Today published on Monday, Indonesian maid Warminingsih pointed out that contracts are drawn up in English, which many maids from her country do not understand. "If agencies insist that employers give a day off to their maids, that will help us," she wrote.
In a statement, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said the campaign was "in line with MOM's effort to ensure that foreign domestic workers are accorded adequate rest. MOM is committed to ensuring that the interests and welfare of all foreign workers, including foreign domestic workers, are safeguarded while working in Singapore".

April 30, 2008
Civic groups campaign for maids' day-off
By Keith Lin
CIVIL society groups are renewing efforts to get employers of maids to give them at least one day off each month.
The groups are embarking on a year-long publicity campaign calling on employers to give the estimated 180,000 maids here their days of rest.
The joint campaign by three non-governmental organisations - the National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) - will kick off tomorrow with the launch of the website
This will feature suggestions on how employers can make lifestyle adjustments so that their maids can get time off and list enrichment courses that such workers can take up on their rest days.
Other activities planned for the year: dialogues with students, and media advertisements to raise public awareness.
Said Unifem Singapore president Saleemah Ismail: 'Over time, we hope that it will become second nature for employers to give their maids rest days, just like what they enjoy at their own workplaces.'
Foreign domestic workers here are excluded from Singapore's Employment Act, which stipulates minimum days off and maximum weekly working hours.
They are, however, covered under Work Permit regulations that require all employers to look after their workers' well-being, including providing them with proper housing and adequate rest.
The current campaign marks the first time civil society groups are collaborating on this issue.
TWC2 has been championing the cause since 2003. Then known as The Working Committee 2, it sent a report to the Manpower Ministry advocating, among other things, legislation requiring employers to give their maids at least two days off every month.
The ministry has, however, eschewed legislation, preferring a reconciliatory to a litigious approach.
In 2006, the Association of Employment Agencies and CaseTrust, the arm of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) that accredits maid agencies, came out with a standard maid employment contract that stipulates a compulsory day off every month or cash in lieu.
The three NGOs are, however, against the offer of cash in lieu, arguing that days off are a basic right.
They add that despite the contracts, reports of maids being denied sufficient rest continue to surface.
The Indonesian Embassy here said it receives around 30 phone calls daily from maids complaining that they do not get a day off - roughly the same number as before the standard contracts were implemented.
Said Mr Arsi Juga, the embassy's Third Secretary for consular affairs who handles maid-related issues: 'Many domestic workers remain unaware that they have the right to ask for a day off or cash in lieu. Some are simply too afraid to ask.'
A spokesman for the Manpower Ministry said the campaign is 'in line' with its own efforts to ensure that foreign domestic workers get adequate rest.
Over the years, the ministry has taken steps to enhance the protection and support of maids. The minimum age for maids has been raised from 18 to 23, and first-time employers must now attend a course on how to treat maids.
'We are committed to ensuring that the interests and welfare of all foreign workers, including foreign domestic workers, are safeguarded while they are working in Singapore,' the spokesman said.
Figures from the Manpower Ministry indicate that only four in 10,000 maids here have reported abuse of any sort by their employers.
Mr John Gee of TWC2 said he detected a 'certain level of wariness' on the part of the Government in dealing with the day-off issue, even though the latter dealt with maid abuse cases very efficiently.
Employer resistance could explain why it was against legislating days off, he said.
IT engineer Jason Chua is one such employer. He makes it a point to give his Filipino maid of three years her days off but wants to retain flexibility in doing so.
Said the 38-year-old, who lives with his wife and ailing mother in a four-room flat in Bedok: 'My maid knows my mother's daily needs very well, so we need her around often. But whenever we have time on weekends, she is free to go.'

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

New Deal For Sri Lankan Domestic Help

By Feizal SamathKUWAIT, Apr 28 (IPS) -

Recruiters for Sri Lankan housemaids in Kuwaiti homes, under fire for a host of problems faced by the domestic workers, have agreed to accept a greater measure of responsibility.More than 200 agents based in Colombo and Kuwait met at a hotel here last week and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that binds agents from both countries to protect domestic workers. For the first time, the agents were not passing the buck to the governments or the state-owned Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau -- as they normally do when housemaids are in trouble. In what many agree is a landmark move for the migrant worker industry in Sri Lanka, the two groups agreed that the crisis plaguing the industry where housemaids end up suffering harassment, rape, abuse, assault and non-payment of wages at the hands of employers was partly their fault. "We have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for this state of affairs. These things wouldn't have happened if we -- on both sides of the trade -- had proper contracts, proper selection of workers, etc.," noted Suraj Dandeniya, president of the Association of Licensed Foreign Employment Agents of Sri Lanka (ALFEA). Zain Milhan, president of the Sri Lanka Manpower Welfare Association of Kuwait (SLMWAK) agreed. "How do we get a good name? How do we become responsible, do good business? Are we concerned only about commissions and making money? Shouldn't we run a good business, a good trade?" SLMWAK represents some 90 percent of the foreign employment business in Kuwait -- Sri Lanka's second largest labour-generating market after Saudi Arabia -- and accounting for nearly 200,000 jobs. The bulk of the workers are housemaids. ALFEA is the only government recognised association representing 800 job agents in Sri Lanka. There is added significance to the agreement because Sri Lankan nationals dominate the foreign employment market in this country. Many of the job agency businesses, in which Kuwaitis are owners as per local rules, are managed by Sri Lankans. Incidentally, quite a few are housemaids-turned-managers. These agencies bring workers from many countries, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. There are more than 1.4 million Sri Lankan workers across the Middle East and many, housemaids in particular, have faced problems. to Sri Lanka's ambassador in Kuwait S.A.C.M. Zuhyle told IPS that often unsuitable people are recruited. Of the 1,057 housemaids sent home last year from Kuwait, nearly 800 cases had failed medical tests, were mentally unfit, were pregnant on arrival, or had infants at home. "They should never have been selected in the first place," Zuhyle said, adding that the majority of the problems would be eliminated if proper selections are made. A Kuwaiti agent said in one case a woman gave birth, just two days after arriving from Colombo. Another case, reported in the Colombo newspapers earlier this month, was of a maid who had given birth to a baby later found dead inside a washing machine. "It was revealed that the housemaid was five months pregnant when she came here," said Ranmalee (one name) who helps manage a Kuwaiti job agency. "Quite a few problems are also because the housemaids are not familiar with what to expect here in terms of work, environment etc.," Ranmalee said, illustrating how other Sri Lankans encourage housemaids to run away from their first employer as there is more lucrative freelance work outside. When that happens, the woman leaves behind her passport and visa documents, making it difficult for her to return home or find another legitimate job. At the Kuwaiti discussions it was revealed that there is a huge racket in medical certificates and very often, housemaids who have failed their medical examination, turn up in Kuwait with a bogus certificate. Underage workers are another problem. Rizana Nafeek, a 20-year-old migrant worker, facing a death sentence in Saudi Arabia for allegedly 'intentionally' killing a four-month-old infant while she was giving it a midday bottle feed in May 2005. Nafeek was just 17 when she first arrived in Saudi Arabia, although her age was mentioned as 23 in the passport. She told a judge at the trial that her date of birth had been falsified by the employment agency. Agents from both sides share the blame for the state of affairs. Often job agents -- in a hurry to make money -- do away with the basic role of screening applicants and making sure they are suitable in terms of capacity to work long hours and medically fit. Both Dandeniya and Milhan, heading the respective agents' associations in Sri Lanka and Kuwait, agree that there are 'bad' eggs amongst agents just like "any other profession". Milhan said there is a plan to set up a computerised network system which would blacklist bad sponsors or employers who have created problems for housemaids. "Through this all our members can check when a sponsor seeks a housemaid,'' he told IPS. On the Colombo side, ALFEA is working on ensuring that proper screening is done before housemaids are sent abroad and there is less corruption in issuing medical certificates or passports with bogus age. The new attitude among recruiting agents may have been prompted Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse comments recently about the government contemplating a ban on Sri Lankan females working as housemaids overseas due to the enormous social problems they leave behind, especially those concerning their young children. "If that (a ban) happens we are all finished," said one agent here. "What happens then to the 600,000 to 700,000 housemaids who are already employed in the Middle East? Who will give them jobs?" he asked. Remittances from Sri Lankan workers represent the largest source of foreign exchange for this South Asian island country after garment exports.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

With another OFW in Kuwait death row

Press Release16 April 2008 For reference: Ramon Bultron
Managing Director Tel. No.: (852) 94773141
With another OFW in Kuwait death rowMigrant group scores "failure" of RP gov't protection and servicesWith the successive cases of death sentences on OFWs and the exposes on abuses and maltreatment that Filipina domestic workers in Kuwait suffer from, it has become even more evident that the Philippine government's services and protection to its nationals there are miserable failures. This was the statement of Ramon Bultron, managing director of the HK-based regional group Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) following the news that another OFW, Jakatia Pawa, has been sentenced to death for allegedly killing her employer's 21-year old daughter. Pawa's sentence followed from the heels of the Kuwait Supreme Court's upholding of the death sentence to another OFW, May Vecina. "Their nationals are put in the gallows one after another. What is the government doing to assist them and even more importantly, what actions are done to address the abusive conditions these OFWs are made to suffer from prior to their alleged crimes?" Bultron remarked. Bultron relayed that there have been reports of serious violations of rights of Filipino migrant workers in Kuwait and the lackluster protection and assistance that the Philippine government gives to the distressed migrant workers. According to the group, the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait itself admitted that 4,225 of its nationals, mostly domestic workers escaped from their employers in 2006. Supposedly this was reduced to 3,000 in 2007. This was due to physical, mental, and sexual abuse; non-payment and/or delay of salaries; and other abuses. The Assistance to Nationals section, on the other hand, reported that there were 98 rape cases in 2006. "A study by the Social Work Society of Kuwait among domestic helpers revealed that about 47% of them experience verbal abuse, are overworked, given insufficient time to sleep. Treated badly, beaten up, accused of stealing and beaten by sons of their employer. Aside from this, only about 25% of them get a weekly day off from work," Bultron said.The group said that some placement agencies, including those based in Kuwait, also disallow those working in homes to have the right to have a cell phone. It is alleged that even Escalani, the biggest agency in Kuwait strip searches domestic helpers to find if they have sim cards in their possession. Bultron also reported that legitimate complaints of domestic helpers even when they are raped are rendered null and void if they are charged by their employers with absconding and/or theft. They can be taken from the POLO shelter and be detained for a maximum of seven months. "It is significant to note that the likes of Marilou Ranario, whose sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after intense pressure was exerted by OFWs around the world, and May Vecina have also undergone abuses. Sadly though, the response of the Philippine government to the situation of their nationals remain nil or at best, minimal," he lamented. Bultron cited the cases of Filipino workers at Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co. and at Al Messa Medicare Co. whom he said were not sufficiently assisted by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait with their complaints. "Workers at KGL were even discouraged by government officials from complaining. Embassy officials also agreed with the management of Al Essa to designate leaders of the protesting workers there as agitators for allegedly 'disturbing other employees'. It took significant public attention to their plight before the government even addressed their complaints," he added. Finally, Bultron reiterated the demand from different OFW groups in the Philippines and in other countries for the Philippine government to act swiftly and appeal for the life of Vecina and Pawa. "While we appeal for His Highness, the Amir of Kuwait, to spare the lives of Vecina and Pawa, we also call on to the government to provide full, swift and unconditional assistance to Vecina and Pawa as well as the other OFWs in Kuwait who are languishing in jails. Moreso, it must get its act together to curb the abuses suffered by their nationals and improve their protection and services to distressed Filipino migrants," he concluded.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

pattaya Daily News:

The recent death of the 54 Burmese migrants in a container in Ranong, on April 10 represents, but the tip of the iceberg. Human rights lawyers and labour rights activists in Thailand say that violence against Burmese migrant workers is on the increase. They accuse Thai authorities of doing too little to protect Burmese working in Thailand. The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs, cited at least documented 10 cases in which more than 100 people had died being transported to Thailand in the past year. Since the beginning of 2008, scores of Rohingya Muslims from Burma have drowned in the Andaman Sea in an attempt to reach Southern Thailand, However, rather than help, Thai PM Samak Sundaravej has recently announced he will detain them on a deserted island to deter more arrivals. "These preventable deaths are the tragic result of people fleeing repression and poverty in Burma, only to find abuse and exploitation in Thailand. Thai policies denying migrants basic rights contribute to such tragedies and urgently need to be revised or scrapped. These deaths put Thai authorities squarely on notice that reform cannot wait," said Elaine Pearson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.Over 2 million Burmese migrants are estimated to be working in Thailand, less than 500,000 of them legally. Yet the numbers rise steadily—the lure of jobs and the hope of a better life outweighs all the uncertainty and threat of physical danger, murder and exploitation that these people suffer. Nearly 20,000 registered Burmese migrant workers work in the Mae Sot area of Thailand's Tak border province with Myanmar, where cases of abuse are particularly high. Moe Swe, head of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association in Mae Sot, said because migrant workers were reluctant to get involved with the police, many incidents go unreported. Unregistered migrants fear deportation if they complain to the authorities800 cases of abuse, including murder and rape, were reported to the Seafarers Union of Burma from mid-2006 to November 2007. Union member Ko Ko Aung maintained 30% of the reported cases involved murder. It appears some Thai employers resort to murder, rather than pay their migrant workers. Adults are not the only victims of Burma's instability, children are also represented. Here estimates are vague, there being no official statistics, but NGOs cite 20,000 as a generally accepted figure. The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving hordes of Burmese children into hard labour, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups. Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot maintains "there's no security and no protection for migrant workers or their children. Neither the authorities nor employers can give them security." With many Thais avoiding mundane, dirty and dangerous work in agriculture, fishing and construction, and Myanmar's generals refusing to improve their crippled economy, Thai officials say the influx of cheap, migrant labour will continue.However, most Thais are unaware of the positive contributions that migrant workers make for Thailand. Estimates of their contributions amount to Bt370 billion, or about 6.2 per cent of Thailand's GDP and the average unskilled migrant earns between 50 and 80% of the average unskilled Thai. Yet it appears as if the Thai political leaders, captains of industry and ordinary citizens - who most benefit directly or indirectly from migrant labour - have conspired to suppress such information. Those who benefit most in the absence of any genuine attempt to regulate the inflow of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos are unscrupulous Thai employers bent on exploiting labour to maximise profits. And Thailand continues to treat these people with utter contempt and prejudice. In fact, it appears the more Thailand comes to depend on migrant workers for its economic and social well-being, the worse the Thai people treat them. Successive governments, including the outgoing Surayud government, have been complicit in the systematic exploitation of migrants, for failure to secure borders, and lax enforcement of laws relating to immigrants and their employers. Human Rights Watch maintains "If Thailand's labour laws were followed across the board, fewer migrants would resort to illegal crossings or be susceptible to trafficking, and could travel and work with basic rights under law." They continue"It's time for the Thai and Burmese governments to implement transparent measures that protect the lives and basic rights of migrant workers." News Type : World news

Monday, 14 April 2008

Suffering in Silence: Domestic Workers Need Legal Protection
BCHR calls for domestic workers to be covered by Labour Law and given weekly holidayUrges unions and women's groups to get involved
Bahrain Center for Human Rights2 Jan 2007Ref: 07010200
Migrant domestic workers in the Gulf countries are among the most vulnerable sections of the society. As both females and migrants, often with very little formal education, domestic workers are the most in need of protection by the State. On the contrary, in the Gulf, domestic workers have been specifically excluded from the purview of the Labour Law, and therefore any legal rights as workers. In effect, they work as the property of their employers with no mechanism to ensure they are provided a safe workplace and are not being abused.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights therefore calls upon the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to amend their Labour Laws such that domestic workers are included under its scope. The BCHR furthers calls on the authorities and civil societies to take immediate steps to require that employers give domestic workers at least one day off from work each week.
This is in line with Article 25 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which states that:
"Migrant domestic workers shall enjoy treatment not less favourable than that which applies to citizen of the country of employment in respect of remuneration and other conditions of work, such as overtime, hours of work, weekly day off, holidays with pay, safety, health, termination of the employment relationship and any other conditions of work which, according to national labour law and practice, are covered by these terms."
Abuse of domestic workers too frequent
Article 10 of the International Convention states that "No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Article 16 adds that they "shall be entitled to effective protection by the State against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions."
However, in Bahrain and the Gulf, every week, the local media reports on cases of domestic workers, women from South and Southeast Asia, who have been abused and denied basic rights. There are horrific tales of women who have run away from their local employer's homes in search of help. The complaints range from being overworked or not receiving wages, to being beaten or raped.[1]
"With the shocking and huge number of cases that we read in the daily newspapers, we do not see any local citizens brought to justice for committing such abusive acts", BCHR Vice-president Nabeel Rajab said."The cases that make it to the media, however, are just a fraction of the actual cases of domestic worker abuse in the region. Most of the victims suffer in silence," he said.
Abused domestic workers frequently fall victim to clinical depression, and reports of workers who try to escape the suffering by attempting to commit suicide are very common. In April 2006, in the the space of just a month, three housemaids attempted suicide at the Philippine Embassy's shelter for distressed workers [2]. According the US State Department's 2005 Report on Human Rights Practices in Bahrain, "between 30 to 40 percent of the attempted suicide cases handled by the government's psychiatric hospitals were foreign maids" [3].
Courts fail to provide protection
If an abused domestic worker is lucky, her sponsor may eventually put her on a plane back to her home country, without any compensation for the suffering. Such was the case of Indian housemaid P. P. Ayesha in 2006, who was kept in virtual slavery for three months without pay and beaten on separate occasions by a recruitment agency employee and two Bahraini sponsors.[4]
Unfortunately, most abused domestic workers agree to go back home without seeking justice because they have no other choice. A legal case in Bahraini courts would be long and drawn out, so this is rarely an option -- unemployed migrant workers would have no alternate means to support themselves during the duration of a trial, let alone pay for legal expenses. Furthermore, the lack of independence of the judiciary means that employers and sponsors can use their social status to influence court decisions in their favour.

Anita Verma, abused Indian domestic workerThere is only one known case of domestic worker abuse in Bahrain in which the courts have convicted the employer. In this case, the employer was an Indian national – the guilty verdict would have been very unlikely had she been a Bahraini national. The victim, Anita Devi Verma, suffered multiple head wounds, bruises and burns before being saved by BCHR workers. Despite the fact that her employer admitted to the crime, it took two years for the court to reach a verdict. The employer was sentenced to a mere three months in jail and ordered to pay Ms. Verma a paltry sum of BD500 (US$1,326) in compensation.[5]
This failure of the judicial system to protect domestic workers contravenes Article 18 of the International Convention, which states that: "Migrant workers and members of their families shall have the right to equality with nationals of the State concerned before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against them or of their rights and obligations in a suit of law, they shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law".
A day off is essential for communication and rest
In a region where both women's rights and migrant's right are compromised, domestic workers in the Gulf are immediately at a high risk of having their rights violated. This is compounded by the fact that for many of them, it is their first time away from their families and homes, and they are often unfamiliar with Arabic or English and local customs.
However, what puts domestic workers especially at risk is the fact that they work and live individually in the homes of their employers, isolated from the outside world. Without any protection from the Labour Law, the employers are free to prevent the workers from leaving the residence, or deny them from making telephone calls. This lack of contact with the outside world means that abused domestic workers are unable to seek help or advice from their peers, their embassies, or the police. It also contributes to the loneliness and depression that domestic workers very often suffer from.
As an immediate and minimum remedy, the BCHR calls on the government to require that all domestic workers are given at least one day off from work each week, when they should be allowed to leave the residence.
Unions and women's groups should give them a voice
Sadly, the plight of domestic workers has been ignored not only by the State, but also by civil societies in Bahrain and the Gulf; they have become invisible to society due to the social stigma attached to their status as low-income earning migrants.
The BCHR urges all labour unions and women's rights organizations to take a stand in defending the rights of female domestic workers. We request these civil societies to make the plight of domestic workers part of their organizational agenda, and allow them to participate in meetings and activities with a view to protecting their economic, social and cultural interests.
Domestic workers should be encouraged to become members of unions and womens organizations so that they can have access to a social support network that is otherwise denied to them. In particular, the civil societies should assist the domestic workers in organizing themselves so they can have a collective voice with which to defend themselves.
We urge the media and the embassies of sending countries to support us in the demand for one day off per week, and ask them to join us in renewing the demand for domestic workers to be included in the purview of the Labour Law.
[1] "The shattered dreams", Bahrain Tribune, 18 December 2006
[2] "Suicide bid by maid...", Gulf Daily News, 9 April 2006
[3] Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005, US State Department, 8 March 2006
[4] "Assaulted maid flies home penniless", Gulf Daily News, 2 October 2006
[5] "Abused maid yearns to go home", Gulf Daily News, 1 July 2005, and "Woman jailed for abusing maid", Gulf Daily News, 27 June 2005
"Circumstances facing Migrant women (Domestic Workers) in the Gulf", Paper presented by BCHR Vice President Nabeel Rajab to the Annual Conference of the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, Bangkok, 25 - 28 September 2003
"Holding Back and Confiscating Passports of Migrant Workers and Forbidding Them from Traveling", BCHR, 26 September 2005
"Swept Under the Rug: Abuses Against Domestic Workers Around the World", Human Rights Watch, July 2006
"Death and the Maid: Work, Violence, and the Filipina in the International Labor Market", Dan Gatmaytan, Harvard Women's Law Journal, Spring 1997
เร่งบริษัทประกันจ่ายศพละ 3 หมื่น 5 คดี 54 คนงานพม่า ตายในรถห้องเย็น
โดย ไทยรัฐ วัน จันทร์ ที่ 14 เมษายน พ.ศ. 2551 11:28 น.

กรณีรถบรรทุกห้องเย็นลักลอบขนแรงงานต่างด้าวชาวพม่าอัดแน่นเต็มห้องเย็นเดินทางจากแพปลา ต.ปากน้ำ อ.เมืองระนอง ไปส่งที่ จ.พังงา และจ.ภูเก็ต ระหว่างทางระบบปรับอากาศห้องเย็นเกิดขัดข้องทำให้แรงงานพม่าขาดอากาศหายใจเสียชีวิต 54 ศพ และบาดเจ็บ 66 คน หลังเกิดเหตุตำรวจจับกุมเจ้าของรถห้องเย็นมรณะ พร้อมติดตามตัวคนขับมาดำเนินคดี ล่าสุดอัครราชทูตสหภาพพม่าประจำประเทศไทยเดินทางไปจ.ระนอง เพื่อสอบถามข้อเท็จจริงด้วยตัวเองนั้นต่อมาวันที่ 13 เม.ย. นางกาญจนาภา กี่หมัน ผวจ.ระนอง เปิดเผยถึงการช่วยเหลือแก่ญาติ แรงงานชาวพม่า ที่เสียชีวิตว่า ได้มอบหมายให้สำนักงานคณะกรรมการกำกับและส่งเสริมการประกอบธุรกิจประกันภัยจังหวัดระนอง ตรวจสอบรถห้องเย็นบรรทุกอาหารทะเลสดของห้างหุ้นส่วน จำกัด น.รุ่งเรืองทรัพย์คันก่อเหตุพบว่าได้ทำประกันภัยไว้กับบริษัทลิเบอร์ตี้ประกันภัย จำกัด ทั้งนี้ ตามพระราชบัญญัติผู้ประสบภัยจากรถ พ.ศ.2535 บริษัทผู้เอาประกันต้องจ่ายค่าเสียหายในเบื้องต้นกรณีเสียชีวิตรายละ 35,000 บาท และค่ารักษาพยาบาลตามที่จ่ายจริงรายละไม่เกิน 15,000 บาท แม้ว่าผู้ประสบภัยจะเป็นต่างด้าวก็ตามกฎหมายคุ้มครองเช่นเดียวกับคนไทยไม่มีข้อยกเว้น โดยต้องดำเนินการจ่ายค่าเสียหายดังกล่าวภายใน 7 วัน นับแต่เอกสารหลักฐานครบถ้วนนางกาญจนาภากล่าวว่า ขณะนี้สำนักงานคณะกรรมการกำกับและส่งเสริมการประกอบธุรกิจประกันภัยจังหวัดระนองได้เตรียมการช่วยเหลือไว้ 2 ทาง คือ 1.ประสานให้ บริษัทลิเบอร์ตี้ประกันภัย จำกัด ให้เตรียมการจ่ายค่าเสียหายเบื้องต้นแก่ทายาทผู้เสียชีวิต ในส่วนของค่ารักษาพยาบาลไม่สามารถขอรับได้เนื่องจากโรงพยาบาลระนองและโรงพยาบาลสุขสำราญ ไม่คิดค่าใช้จ่ายในการรักษาพยาบาล 2.ได้เตรียมการด้านอำนวยความสะดวกแก่ทายาทที่จะเดินทางมาขอรับค่าเสียหายเบื้องต้นจากบริษัทฯ โดยได้ตั้งคณะทำงานระดับจังหวัดขึ้นมาเพื่อทำหน้าที่ในการประสานอำนวยความสะดวกแก่ญาติผู้เสียชีวิตในการติดต่อกับบริษัทประกันภัยผู้สื่อข่าวถามว่าพม่าที่เสียชีวิตทั้งหมดลักลอบเข้าเมืองเดินทางมาจากเมืองต่างๆ ของพม่าไม่มีหลักฐานติดตัวจะตรวจสอบอย่างไร ผวจ.ระนองกล่าวว่า เรื่องนี้ทางจังหวัดจะตั้งคณะกรรมการระดับจังหวัดขึ้นมา 1 ชุดจากหลายๆ ฝ่าย โดยมอบหมายให้หน่วยประสานงานชายแดนไทย-พม่า ประจำพื้นที่ 6 จังหวัดระนอง เป็นศูนย์กลางในการประสานกับจังหวัดเกาะสองในด้านการแจ้งญาติผู้เสียชีวิตเพื่อร่วมกันตรวจสอบผู้ที่จะมาแสดงตัวว่าเป็นญาติของผู้ตายเป็นตัวจริงหรือไม่ จุดนี้อาจจะต้องพึ่งทางการพม่าด้วย ส่วนความคืบหน้าการติดตามจับกุมนายสุชล บุญปล้อง คนขับรถห้องเย็นมรณะนั้นเจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจยังไม่สามารถจับกุมได้ แต่ตำรวจก็ได้ออกไล่ล่ากันตลอด 24 ชั่วโมง

Monday, 31 March 2008

Protection of domestic workers: the ITUC supports proposed ILO Convention

Already grouping over one hundred million workers worldwide, the largely female domestic labour force is continuing to grow in line with the rising demand for these services. Whilst contributing to improving the quality of life and living standards of others, domestic workers themselves remain confined within an invisible and very poorly protected segment of the labour market. Although a vital link in the economic chain, they are often deprived of their basic rights and confronted with exploitation and ill-treatment.
Calling on its affiliates to rally to the cause, the International Trade Union Organisation is urging the countries represented on the ILO Governing Body to support the proposal to draw up an International Convention specifically to protect domestic workers.
Excessive working hours, low wages, inadequate or no social security, sexual harassment, physical abuse, unscrupulous employment agencies, no trade union rights, forced labour… the inventory of abuses drawn up in the document to be submitted to the members of the ILO Governing Body, which will meet in Geneva from 6 to 20 March, highlights the cruel lack of decent work among this category of particularly vulnerable workers, often excluded from national labour legislations and, until now, ignored by international law.
“For the international trade union movement, ensuring better protection for domestic workers is one of the keys to promoting decent work, which is at the heart of our action,” declared Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC.
-The ITUC has published several testimonies regarding the organisation of domestic workers, which can be read at:

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Say bye bye to cheap maids14 Mar 2008, 0331 hrs IST,Radheshyam Jadhav,TNN

PUNE: The 70,000-odd ʽkaamwali baisʼ in the city have something to cheer about. If the state government has its way, these housemaids may soon get a fixed, minimum monthly pay, bonus, paid leave and flexible working hours. The government plans to introduce a domestic worker welfare bill in the ongoing session of the state assembly ensuring stipulated benefits to housemaids in Pune, Mumbai and other select cities. State marketing minister Harshvardhan Patil told TOI on Thursday that the bill is ready for tabling. Once the bill is introduced, a labour board will come into place, which will include representatives of maids, their employers and government officials. The board will look into the rights of domestic workers and stipulate norms of payment, bonus, weekly offs and paid leaves. All housemaids will be registered with the board. Maids working in cities like Pune, Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad will be among the first to benefit. The Pune Shahar Molkarin Sanghatana (PSMS), an organisation of housemaids in the city, was a major force pushing the state to frame the bill. Absence of formal employer-employee relationship, lack of organisation, poor bargaining power, low legislative protection and inadequate welfare measures are some of the reasons cited by the PSMS for the exploitation of maids.

Monday, 24 March 2008


By Nisha Varia

Published in As-Safir

March 8, 2008

New York - International Women's Day is an opportunity not only to evaluate women's progress in areas such as education, employment, and politics, but also to honor the importance of what has been traditionally viewed as "women's work": cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

For many of us, an incredibly precious and important part of our lives is the well-being of our children, the comfort of our elderly parents, and a safe, clean home where we can count on nourishing meals. Yet society gives little recognition to the daily labors required to nurture a family and a home.

Lebanese women are caught in an unenviable position. While their participation in the workforce has increased, gender stereotyping and discrimination mean that they have retained the primary burden of household work. Their task has been made harder by a society that clings to the importance of a well-kept home while at the same time disparaging cooking and cleaning as trivial and unimportant in comparison to the "real" work of making deals at an office or clocking hours at a factory. This societal attitude has deeply undermined the skills required to care for the ill, raise children, and prepare meals several times a day, and in many cases, to perform such work simultaneously.

The lack of respect for household work is shown by not only Lebanese men, but also by many Lebanese women. This is most obvious in the treatment of migrant domestic workers. Each year, tens of thousands of women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and other countries leave their own families behind to help the Lebanese manage theirs. While many receive good treatment from their employers, far too many others are treated as if they are barely human and as if their work has little value.

Seeming to forget that they hired a domestic worker because they themselves found the demands of cleaning, cooking, and childrearing to be overwhelming, many employers think nothing of requiring domestic workers to be "on call"
around-the-clock and fail to provide them even one day of rest per week. In fact, some employers want this help without paying for it or even when they cannot afford it. Nonpayment of wages, for months and sometimes years, is one of the most common problems faced by women domestic workers.

Even the Lebanese government treats these women and their work as if they were invisible. By excluding domestic work from the labor laws, the government denies domestic workers the minimum standards of employment that other workers enjoy, such as a day off once a week, limits to working hours, and a minimum wage. This exclusion symbolizes how labor associated with traditional female roles of care-giving is not yet given full respect as work, and unfortunately gives employers wide latitude to exploit domestic workers.

Those opposed to reforming the labor laws assert that domestic work is a special case, a form of work that cannot be regulated because it takes place in private homes. Many employers claim they treat their domestic worker like their daughter or as part of the family. If this was truly the case, it is puzzling that these employers would not support basic labor protections for those they care about. Research shows that while some Lebanese families treat their domestic workers well, many others do not take this approach and do require guidance from the law - common complaints made by domestic workers include inadequate provision of food and restrictions on their freedom of movement.

In the worst cases, employers may physically or sexually abuse domestic workers. These situations carry strikingly similar themes to domestic violence. In such cases, employers may belittle and insult the domestic worker, or beat her for small mistakes in her work. Violence such as slapping or pushing a domestic worker may often be socially sanctioned as "discipline."

How could treatment of domestic workers, guests in this country who spend their days and nights caring for Lebanese families get to this point?
International Women's Day is a key moment to reflect on not only the status of Lebanese women, but of all the women in Lebanon, including migrant domestic workers. This day is a reminder to see the parallels in the struggle for equal rights.

Lebanese society has a choice: to continue the status quo, liberating itself from housework by passing it on to poorer sisters from around the world, but leaving them open to exploitation and abuse. Or it can take steps to value household work, such as providing equal labor rights to domestic workers, and giving them the dignity they deserve.

Nisha Varia is a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of several reports on migrant domestic workers, available at:
By Farrah Jarral on Monday, March 17, 2008

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is seen as a tropical island paradise by many. Though beautiful, its troubles, both political and economical, mean that there has been an efflux of migrants for many years. In countries such as Canada, Australia & New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, Sri Lankan migrants from the upper middle classes form a prominent sector of the communities settled there. These Sri Lankan doctors and lawyers and their children tend to be well assimilated, with strong voices and positions in society.

However, those from the less affluent socioeconomic strata of Sri Lanka face a very different fate when they move abroad to work. Figures from the Centre for Women’s Research show that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were among the top destinations for female workers from Sri Lanka between 2001 and 2005. Indeed, there are few places on earth with a greater demand for domestic labour than the economically affluent parts of the Arab world, and for unskilled female workers such places represent a promise of greater prosperity and job security. Drawn in by assurances of decent pay and working conditions, Sri Lankan women have migrated in their droves to wealthy households in the Middle East to serve as housemaids. Tragically, the reality they meet is frequently more akin to modern day slavery than economic emancipation.

In the petrol-rich states of the Gulf, the private domain of the family home can and often does become an isolated arena for long-term physical, psychological and sexual abuse of domestic staff recruited from Sri Lanka or the Philippines. Within the walls of the home, women are raped, beaten, burnt and abused by both female and male employers and their families. Promises of pay may never materialise, flights and phonecalls home withheld, and the concept of time off work dismissed by employers free to behave as they choose away from the critical eyes of society.

Anecdotes relating the horrific abuse of maids in Saudi Arabia and the UAE abound, and the issue of the maltreatment of maids in the Arab world has begun to crop up in the media. The New York Times ran an article on the matter in 2005 and in 2003, an article by the BBC’s correspondent in Colombo, Sri Lanka, detailed stories of battery, torture by burning, sexual abuse and gang rape of female domestic workers in houses in the Middle East. Yet despite some awareness of the issue, problems continue and thousands of women continue to live as indentured labourers with no way out.

For many housemaids, leaving an abusive household is simply not an option – they have often not been paid for months or even years and have not a shred to their name with which to fly back home. Worse still, in many cases, women are actually locked within homes with no physical access to the outside world. The 2004 Human Rights Watch report on the abuse of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia noted that “living in forced confinement and extreme isolation made it difficult or impossible for these women to call for help, escape situations of exploitation and abuse, and seek legal redress.” It also highlighted female domestic workers as the most vulnerable group of migrants. For those that do run away, their fate as destitute foreigners in the arid lands of the oil rich Arab world is almost as bad as that within the torturous employer’s household. Despite that, many do still run away. In 2001, an official at the Saudi Ministry of Information estimated that there were 19,000 runaway maids in the country from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. These women had escaped abuse and maltreatment at the hands of employers and were housed in shelters awaiting repatriation, or living rough, penniless and vulnerable.

In 1962, King Fahd boldly abolished slavery in Saudi Arabia. However, behind closed doors the culture of slavery persists, and the biggest victims are women from South and South East Asia working in a domestic setting. Organisations such as the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights are attempting to raise awareness and force governments in the Middle East to stop the abuse of women domestic workers, but with a background of human rights violations across the spectrum in this region, hopes are not high for change in the near future.

Of all Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange, the largest net income comes from the supply of labour. Economic pressures and high unemployment rates in the country mean that government officials even admit that, in the words of Minister of Labour Samarasinghe, “We are not in a position to say, ‘Look here, ensure that all of these things are in place otherwise we will not send our people’.”

Minister Samarasinghe’s statement regarding the provision of adequate health insurance for migrant workers does convey the sense of economic obligation that Sri Lanka is under. However, without sustained pressure from the governments of countries supplying domestic labour, the appalling abuse and torture of women of all ages will continue. The abysmal human rights record of countries such as Saudi Arabia suggest that it will be some time before changes take place within the countries in which such abuse occurs. It remains for us to apply pressure to the governments sending out their vulnerable women to a fate of torture, imprisonment, slavery, rape and even death, to make a stand for their safety.

Farrah Jarral is a junior doctor of British-Pakistani origin working in St Mary's Hospital, London. She has traveled widely in the Middle East.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The time has come for Malaysia to now ensure that basic worker rights is provided for and guaranteed to the over 0.3 million domestic workers in our country.
Gone also are the days when the number of domestic workers were small and there was no real need to look at legislating the rights of these workers. Today, in Malaysia, there are 320,000 registered foreign housemaids in Malaysia, and out of this 96 per cent or 308,000 are Indonesian migrant workers.
Gone too are the days when domestic workers were members of the extended family or someone from one’s own village. Gone too are the days of the local Malaysian part-time household helper. At the moment, although domestic workers are recognized as workers in Malaysian law, there is in effect very little or almost no protection whatsoever of the rights of this category of workers.
“Domestic servant” is acknowledged as worker in law BUT without rights
In our Employment Act 1955, “Domestic servant” is mentioned and is given the meaning “a person employed in connection with work of a private dwelling-house and not in connection with any trade, business, profession carried on by the employer in such dwelling house and includes a cook, house servant, butler, child’s nurse, valet, footman, gardener, washer man or washerwoman, watchman, groom and driver or cleaner of any vehicle licensed for private use.” In Malaysia, save for driving, migrant domestic worker normally ends up doing all of these different jobs.
With regard the domestic servant, it is clearly stated that the following sections of the Employment Act are not applicable to them, being:- Section 12 (Notice of termination of Contract), 14 (Termination of Contract for Special Reasons), 16 (Employees on Estates to be provided with minimum number of days’ work in each month), 22 (Limitation on advances to employees), 61 (Employers Duty to Keep Register), 64 ((Employers Duty to display notice boards), Part IX (Maternity Protection), Part XII (Rest Days, Hours of Work, Holidays And Other Conditions of Service) and Part XIIA (Termination, Lay-Off And Retirement Benefits.
Worker Rights Must be Legislated To Ensure Certainty and Real Protection
In short, there is not even basic protection for domestic workers under the Malaysian employment laws. Jordan has legislations to provide for rights and protections to domestic workers, and in Taiwan, a Bill for Household Services is before Parliament. In Malaysia, whish has a higher number of domestic workers; it is time for some legislation to protect the rights of these domestic workers.
Although, the Malaysian Immigration Department “policy” or “guidelines of employment” do have an Employment Agreement form which stipulates that a domestic worker is entitled to one day off per week, but the same clause provides that an employer can insist the worker works on the “off-day” provided adequate remuneration is provided. Sadly, there is no stipulation of wages, let alone the calculation of this additional remuneration. What is the basis of this “Employment Agreement” – for there is no existing Act or legislation that provides for rights of domestic workers in Malaysia.
In practice, save for the Filipino domestic workers, none of the other domestic workers of other nationalities seem to be getting any day off, let alone any time off. Domestic workers are treated more like “property” or “slaves” rather than human beings.
What then is the basis of the rights of domestic workers? Is it the Memorandum of Understanding (and/or Agreements) entered into between the sending countries and the receiving countries? If yes, the difficulty to get access to these Memorandums and/or Treaties keeps everyone guessing as to its contents.
Indonesia and Malaysia would be entering into a Memorandum of Understanding within a month or two, and it is disturbing to note whilst the Indonesian government are insisting on labour rights, Malaysia is rejecting giving reasons like according labour rights as given to other workers in Malaysia would make it uneconomical for Malaysian employers to continue to employ Indonesian domestic workers.
Discrimination based on Nationality must be stopped
It is also very disturbing to note that Indonesian domestic workers are the lowest paid compared to domestic workers from other nationalities, and this discrimination based on nationality goes contrary Article 8 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia provides that “All Persons are equal before the law and is entitled to equal protection of the law” and by the use of term “person” as opposed to ‘citizen’ makes it most clear that this guarantee of rights extends also to all persons, including migrant workers. Hence, the discrimination based on nationality is wrong.
No right of claim against the Government and/or its Agents?
It is shocking that the Malaysian government requires Muslim domestic workers have also to sign a Declaration agreeing not to make any claim against the Government and its agents in any cause of action whilst they are in Malaysia. This is what the Form at the Immigration Department website entitled “Lampiran B Perakuan Pembantu Rumah Asing Islam Warganegara …” (Enclosure B Muslim Foreign Domestic Worker of … Nationality”. This is a gross violation of human rights and a great injustice. It is interesting that protection from claims seem also to be accorded to the agents.
Of course, it seems that the claims may be made after the domestic worker leaves Malaysia – but this is not only difficult but near impossible taking into consideration that domestic workers generally are from poor backgrounds and would lack the resources to pursue any claims after they have left Malaysia.
Should Not the Agent be the Employer – not the Householder?
Employers, after all, do not have a choice but have to get the domestic workers through agents, and as such a question can be raised as to whether there should even be an employment agreement between the husband/wife (the householder) and the domestic worker – for after all is not the agent the labour provider.
Maybe, then the proper employer of the domestic worker should be the agent, and the householder should just be entering into an agreement with the agent for the provision of labour in the form of a domestic worker. The duty of the agent should therefore be to ensure that wages, rights and benefits that should be accorded to the domestic worker is so provided as per the agreement. If the worker fails to provide services as per the agreement, the householder should have a lawful remedy/claim/cause of action against the agent. If the householder is in breach, then the agent would have a remedy/claim/cause of action against the householder.
With regard to the domestic worker, her claim and cause of action with regard to matters involving her employment lies against the agent, the employer. Of course, if there is abuse, assault, battery or anything else against the person and/or property, the domestic worker should like any other person have a claim and/or cause of action against the employer.
Since, the agent is also the agent of the government; the domestic worker must definitely be entitled as of right to pursue a claim and/or a cause of action also against the government as well. Governments then would have to ensure that only good agents are approved and appointed. It may be good to also provide legislations covering the appointment and duties of the agents involving in the business of providing labour, and the Ministry responsible must be the Human Resources Ministry not the Director General of Immigration under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The employer-employee relationship between the “agent”(labour provider) and the domestic worker is not something new. For example security companies provide security guards to its customers, and at all time these security guards are the employee of the security company and not the customers. If unsuitable, the customers will have a right to demand a change of the guard. Wages and rights are the duty and responsibility of the security company not the customer. Similarly, the householder will have to make monthly payments to the ‘agent’, who will then have to pay the wages, less lawful deductions, to the domestic worker.
Rights that need to be accorded to domestic workers
The right to an 8-hour work-day (of course given the nature of domestic work, this could be defined periods through-out the day), the right to be remunerated for overtime work, the right to have one-day off per week, the right to be able to fulfill one’s religious obligations, the right to be able to communicate with one’s family using own monies/resources, the right to sick leave, the right to compassionate leave, the right to annual leave, the right to association, the right to seek legal redress, the right to a speedy procedure for redress, the right to change of place of work, the right to association, the right to consult a lawyer, the right to communicate and/or go to her embassy, the right to open a bank account, the right to have access to banking facilities to be able to transfer money back home, the right to sue and be sued, the right to private space and leisure time, the right to adequate medical and dental care; and the right to have a original copy of her agreement are just some of the minimal rights that must be to the domestic worker.
We sometimes forget that domestic workers are human beings – with families and other human responsibilities and needs. Domestic workers are also workers, and like every other worker must be accorded worker rights and human rights, including also effective access to justice.
Malaysia is on the verge of attaining developed nation status, and being a caring nation, we must not delay to ensure that our domestic workers, like any other workers, are treated with dignity and with justice.
Charles Hector
25th April 2006
Charles Hector can be contacted at

Thursday, 20 March 2008

If you want to stand up for Tibet, here is the link to sign the petition.

Will Burmese Migrants be able to Vote?

Most countries provide some form of absentee voting for nationals who live abroad or facilitate voting for internal migrants who have returned home to vote.Migrants represent a constituency that can be a powerful lobby in referendums and elections, and can, sometimes, determine an election’s outcome. In Zimbabwe, The Congress of Trade Unions has called on 3 million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa to return home to vote in the March 29th election. In a recent election in Kelantan, Malaysia, the Barisan Nasional Party blamed its defeat on the failure of a large number of Kelantanese living outside the state to return home to vote.In Thailand, Section 99 of the 2007 Constitution enshrines the right of Thai nationals who reside outside their constituency or outside the country to vote. In the December national election, polling booths for absentee voters were set up a week before the vote. For Thai migrants, who returned home to vote, a public holiday was declared to allow more time to travel.In Burma, with a referendum on the constitution scheduled in May, Burmese migrants are wondering will they be able to exercise their right to vote? Burmese migrants have never had the opportunity to vote, although many have grown up hearing stories from their parents about voting in the 1990 election, only to have the vote ignored by the junta. While migrants fear the same thing may happen this time, they will never know unless they are able to vote.There are many hurdles for Burmese migrants to overcome, if they are to be allowed to vote. The deck, as usual, seems stacked against them.The first hurdle entails knowing how to register to vote. Embassies are usually the best source of information for overseas nationals on such issues, but it is no easy task to get any information from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. Families in Burma are being instructed to tell their migrant relatives to return home quickly to be included on the voting registrar and obtain an ID card to be eligible to vote. If successful, that could entail making two trips home: one to register and one to cast a “No” or “Yes” vote. Such trips would not only cost migrants precious money and time, but could also cost them their legal status in Thailand. When migrant workers in Thailand register for a temporary work permit they are legally confined to the province where they register. Crossing a provincial border could lead to the loss of their legal status and crossing the border into Burma would automatically render the migrant illegal under current laws. Some 367,834 Burmese migrants in Thailand hold a work permit that will expire on June 30th. Registration to extend the permit for another year begins on June 1. If these migrants choose to return home to vote, would they be able to return to Thailand to register for a work permit again?Even if the Thai government decided to support the migrants’ right to vote and facilitated their return, migrants would have another hurdle to overcome: their employers. Employers of migrant workers are usually reluctant to give migrants time off from work; would they support a week off to return home to vote? Would their jobs be there when they returned? According to a recent article in The Bangkok Post, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said: “If Myanmar [Burma] wants assistance from Thailand (on the referendum), we are ready to offer help as a friendly country.” Thailand’s help is badly needed by the 360,000 registered Burmese migrants and 1.2 million unregistered migrants. If the Burmese embassy in Bangkok becomes a polling station, Thailand’s help would be needed to issue migrants temporary travel passes to go to Bangkok to vote. The Burmese regime could also set up polling stations located close to the Thai border specifically for migrants as they do on the American-Mexican border. In this scenario Thailand would need to provide some sort of document or amnesty on travel restrictions to allow migrants to travel safely to and from the border.If the regime demands that migrants return home first to register and then to vote, Thailand’s assistance would be needed to provide travel documents or border passes and to ensure that employers grant workers time off to perform their civil duty and guarantee their jobs upon their return.The Burmese regime has provided almost no information about the referendum process, the actual voting or the contents of the constitution. If Thailand is open hearted and willing to aid Burmese migrants who want to vote in the referendum, it will be necessary to act quickly. And if Asean is truly a caring community, it will actively support systems for Burmese migrants in Malaysia and Singapore to also be able to vote. The future of Burma depends on it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Good News!

The first step is won.
We are going to work for an ILO convention on giving equal workers’ rights to household/domestic workers.
Yesterday the Governing Body of the ILO agreed to include “Decent work for domestic workers” (Standard setting) in the agenda of the 99th Session (2010) of the International Labour Conference.
Maid room or dog's kennel?Published Date: March 16, 2008 By Badrya Darwish http://www.kuwaitti news.php? newsid=NjUwOTI1O TcyI went office and apartment hunting this past week and I went all over in most of the good areas like Bneid Al-Gar, Jabriya, Salmiya, Sharq, etc. The real estate agent took me to many buildings. Most had mixed floors, including commercial and residential spaces. To my surprise, people have managed to convince the government that floors can be licensed for commercial businesses up to the sixth floor and from there on it's only residential.I'm puzzled, what's the difference between the fifth and tenth floors? Why can one floor be commercial and one must be residential? The best part, of course, is that the offices on the commercial floors are twice the price of the same sized space on a residential floor. Never mind that. I accept it and can't do anything about it.But while being shown all the flats, the haris took me around saying, "This is bedroom one, this is bedroom two, this is the lounge, etc." Then on the side of the flat, or even maybe on the outside of the flat, there is a one-metre-by- another-metre room with a small toilet adjacent. I asked, "What is this?", and the haris answered: "This is the maid's room." And I said, surprised, "Are you sure it's not the dog's room?The poor haris just looked at me and smiled. Definitely he's afraid to say his mind but I could read his thoughts. I tried to figure out how this tiny space could be a maid's room. Let's assume we'd buy her the smallest bed, known as a single. It won't fit in this room, I bet you. Maybe widthwise, but definitely not lengthwise. So forget the bed. She cannot have a bed. The only thing that will fit there is a baby cot. Is the maid going to be the size of a baby? Isn't that ridiculous!Do you think these landlords, if they extend that poor maid's room by one more metre, will suffer losses? Will their financial situation go into the red? Will they go bankrupt? Or the building will have one less apartment? No, I don't think so. It's only greed and disregard for humanity. This maid, whoever she or he is, serves us all day long. Even in the best-treated houses, she will work for at least 10 hours. She will do our laundry, iron, wash the car, bake, cook, clean our dirt, scrub our toilets, clean the surrounding of the house, etc.Maybe we'll be kind to tell her thank you or please sometimes. Or maybe 50 percent of the time she'll be screamed or yelled at or criticized for the work that she's done. I'm not discussing this. That needs chapters and chapters. But for God's sake give her a bed to sleep on that fits her where she doesn't have to roll up herself like a baby in his mother's tummy in that luxurious bedroom.If the landlord is greedy and ruthless...what about the municipality? What about the architect who planned the building? They have no conscience too? Wake up guys. One day you will end up in a hole smaller than that maid's room.
Thailand National FDW Campaign Launched on the March 8, 2008!
Sri Lankan minister tackles issues of domestic workers http://www.arabtime client/pagesdeta ils.asp?nid= 13788&ccid=9 Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Jamal Al-Shehab and the Sri Lankan Minister of Labor Kahlia Rambo Kuela on Friday held bilateral talks in Kuwait. Issues discussed at the meetings centered on the welfare of Sri Lankan domestic workers in Kuwait. Rambo Kuela told the press after the two authorities has reached agreement to increase the minimum wage of Sri Lankan domestic workers from KD 40 to 50 with effect from January 2008, and after six months to increase it further to KD 60. He added that the agreement would strengthen the cordial relationship between the two countries. Al-Shehab promised to address problems of Sri Lankan laborers in Kuwait, adding that there are 100,000 Sri Lankan workers out of the 1.5 million expatriates in the country. Those present at the meeting were the Sri Lankan ambassador to Kuwait Sayed Abdul Qader Muhammad Zuhaili and other officials from both countries. By Shawki MahmoudSpecial to the Arab Times

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

International Women’s Day Statement

March 8, 2008

In 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. A hundred years later, women still suffer unfair and unsafe working conditions and still we march for our rights.
We are women working in agriculture, community clinics, construction, entertainment places, factories, legal aid clinics, private households and in our own homes. We are local women, we are women from across the country and across the borders. We are working women and today we are walking for all working women. Today we walk for better pay for women! Today we walk for social security for all working women! Today we walk for safe working conditions for all working women.
Take a look at the constructions sites where we work, perched high above Chiang Mai with nothing to protect our safety! These sites are not safe. We need safe working conditions!
We work in the industrial estate in Lampoon, manufacturing electronic products. We are exposed to lead poisoning. We need the right to collective bargaining to improve the protection against such exposure.
We work like other women work, but we get no recognition or acceptance of our work because we work as sex workers. We want recognition as workers now.
Our Burmese sisters work in garment factories on the border. They are paid much less than the legal minimum wage. To get a living wage, they must work overtime every night! We demand not less than the minimum wage for all workers!
We work in the fruit and flower farms around Chiang Mai. We come from the mountains of Thailand, Lao and Burma. We have to spray pesticides which we know are dangerous to our health. We need proper protective clothing!
We work in private households as domestic workers. Our work is not protected by the labour laws. We are dependent on our employers, but some are fair and some are not fair at all. We need rights under the law. We need one day paid leave a week!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Indonesian migrants claim victory over SE 2258


Press release
23 February 2008

For reference Eni Lestari
Spokesperson, Phone: [852] 96081475

Indonesian migrant claim victory over SE2258
Vow to pursue fight vs overcharging, illegal salary deduction and lack of services

"Our unity and militant actions forced the Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong to withdraw the blatantly anti-migrant ban on transfer of agencies. We vow to continue our fight against greater problems of overcharging, illegal salary deduction, and insufficient services of Indonesian government."

This was declared by Eni Lestari, spokesperson of the United Indonesians against Overcharging (PILAR) and chairperson of the Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (ATKI-HK), before Indonesian migrant workers who rallied in front of Indonesian Consulate last Sunday, February 17, against Circular Letter 2258. The protest action was organized by PILAR, ATKI and the Indonesian Migrant Muslim Alliance (GAMMI).

Since January 13 this year, PILAR, GAMMI and ATKI where at the forefront of picket actions and protest programs against the rule that prohibited IMWs who have worked for less than two years in Hong Kong to change agencies.

While hundreds of Indonesian domestic workers rallied, representatives of the organizers were invited by Consul General RI, Ferry Adamhar for a dialogue where the he announced the scrapping of Circular Letter 2258.

On 10 February 2008, PILAR and GAMMI organized public forum to scrap SE 2258 attended by thousands of Indonesian migrant workers. The forum was followed by 2,000 strong rally at the Consulate.

"It was the first time in our history that thousands of Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong joined the rally and it proved that IMWs are becoming more aware of issues of migrant workers. The Indonesian migrant workers movement is indeed stronger," Lestari remarked.

After thousands of IMWs surrounded Indonesian Consulate last 10 February, representatives of the Indonesian Consulate sought the officers of PILAR on 14 February and informed the group that the policy will be scrapped.

"This experience has affirmed our belief to continue our united efforts. It is a victory for every Indonesian migrant who faces abuses and exploitation from unscrupulous recruitment agencies," she relayed.

The formal announcement of the policy's scrapping was released by the Consulate last 23 February.

"This couldn't have been possible without the determination of Indonesian migrants and our organized efforts to push through with our demands. We also account this victory to the support the migrant workers of other nationalities in Hong Kong, institutions that provide services to migrant workers, and our advocates and families in Indonesia who also stood with us on this campaign," she declared.

Lestari said that bigger campaigns are planned by the groups in the coming months.

"We will never stop. Our rights and welfare are at stake and we shall not standby while these are violated and neglected," she concluded.#

Anggota: Akhwat Gaul, Alexa Dancer, Al Fattah, Al Hikmah, Al Istiqomah Internasional Muslim Society, Al Ikhlas, Al Jamiatus Solehah, An Nisaa International Muslim Society, Arrohmah, Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (ATKI-HK), Birul Walidain, Borneo Dancers, Dance in Freedom (DIF), Forum Muslimah Al Fadhilah (FMA-HK), Ikatan Wanita Muslim Indramayu Cirebon (IWAMIC), Ikatan Wanita Hindu Dharma Indonesia (IWHDI), Java Dance, KREN Dancers, Nur Muslimah Shatín, Peace, Simple Groups, Terali Dancer, Wanodya Indonesian Club, Zaqia.

Welcome Note

This is a space for everyone committed to the cause of FDWs to contribute his/her ideas, plans, and strategies to the on-going campaign. Through the effective use of blogspot, let us achieve the goal of defending the rights of FDWs. Enjoy posting and sharing strategies.

Monday, 18 February 2008


Works to recognise domestic work as work by having domestic work included under national labour laws and employment acts;
Strives to involve FDWs and their associations in the planning, implementing, and evaluating phases of the campaign; and
Seeks strategies and approaches to counter the obstacles that are constraining FDWs from their active involvement in the "Recognise Domestic Work as Work" campaign.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Feb 2008 Open Commentary for users

Please add "comments" to share with other users your experiences, strategies, and plans for the campaign


The coalition was formed on the 2nd of May 2007 in Indonesia.

Who we are

United for Foreign Domestic Workers’ Rights comprises of six regional/ international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from the Asia Pacific region. The members of Ufdwrs are Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD), Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM),CARAM Asia, Mekong Migration Network (MMN), and Global Alliance Against Trafficking Women (GAATW), Asian Migrant Coordinating Body (AMCB), ENGENDER, Solidaritas Perempuan, H.O.M.E., TWC2, Solidarity Migrante (Philippines), Solidarity Migrant Sclabrini (Indonesia).