Thursday, 10 December 2009

Human Rights for Migrant Domestic Workers

KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Dec 2009: As the world marks International Human Rights Day today, CARAM Asia launches an online petition campaign seeking crucial support and commitment from every employer to grant a weekly paid day off to their migrant domestic worker (MDW). From today onwards, the online campaign will be featured for 30 days on the major media online sites based in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Middle East:


A simple click is all is needed to grant a basic fundamental right to one of the most vulnerable group of human beings today..:

Monday, 29 June 2009

Rights for Foreign Domestic Workers Must be Enshrined in Law

Letter By CARAM Asia:
The recent decision by the Indonesian government to temporarily halt the sending of domestic workers highlights the increasing call to readdress the protection framework of foreign domestic workers (FDW). While this initial move will hopefully make the Malaysian government readdress the social, political and health rights of FDW, any permanent banning will lead to an increase in migrants resorting to undocumented means in efforts to support their families. Read More...

Legal Protection, Not training

KUALA LUMPUR, 21 June 2009: In connection to the recent call by the Indonesia government for protection of Indonesian foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Malaysia, CARAM Asia a regional network of 29 NGOs and trade unions across 17 countries in Asia would like to reiterate our recommendation for the Malaysian government to amend the Employment Act ensuring a comprehensive legal measure to protect the rights of all domestic workers.
The proposal by the Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (PAPA) for employers to attend a one-day course on their responsibilities and duties will not prevent abuses.
How can FDWs who are confined to private homes, without a day off away from the surveillance of their employers and with their passports and legal documents held by employers, leave the house to seek help when abused and exploited?
Therefore we reiterate our call that the government should:
• Incorporate a comprehensive mandatory standard contract for domestic workers into the Employment Act without discrimination on the workers’ nationalities stating clearly terms and condition of work with well defined job scope, a minimum wage and prohibiting employers or agents to keep a domestic workers’ passport and any other personal legal documents. This contract spells out all the labour rights for FDWs in the Employment Act which would then be enforceable as part of the Employment Act.
• Ensure the right to a paid day off for all domestic workers is enforced by the end of 2009 as announced by the Human Resources Minister.
• Develop redress mechanisms for more effective accountability of non-State actors (employers, recruitment agencies, brokers) for violations against domestic workers.
Under existing legislation, domestic workers in Malaysia are defined as “servants” under the Malaysian Employment Act 1955, and as such they are currently excluded from regulations relating to such issues as rest days, hours of work, and termination benefits.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that FDW are the lowest paid workers (especially Indonesians who constitute the majority of FDW) in the absence of a legal minimum wage. Yet, with their passports and other legal documents held by employers or agents, they risk arrest by the immigration services and RELA if they attempt to leave their employers to access the justice system.
We also note with great concern that as the job description of the FDW is arbitrarily defined by employers, the current legal framework do not protect them from exploitation. In many cases, FDWs find themselves working not only in the employer’s house but also in the homes of employers’ relatives, restaurants and other business outlets owned by their employer. As a result, some FDWs have to work as long as sixteen hours a day, seven days a week without a break in a year.
Malaysia’s move to amend its domestic legislation would also mark a move to fall in line with international labour and human rights standards. The country has already committed to uphold human rights protections through its ratification of both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As such, the Malaysian government must acknowledge its commitment to this through its transference of these principles into domestic law with subsequent enforcement. Only then will their commitments to international obligations be met, and the rights of women and children be guaranteed under the law.
The General Comment 26 of the CEDAW Convention acknowledges that domestic work should be protected by labour laws and entitled to wage and hour regulations, health and safety codes, holiday and vocation leave regulations etc. This convention adopted by Malaysia also states that ‘these laws should include mechanisms by which to monitor the workplace conditions of migrant women…’ If the state can hold perpetrators of violence against women accountable for what they did in private homes, they must also monitor the working conditions of FDWs.
Next year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will start working on the process of adopting a new standard for domestic workers that could possibly lead to a new specific Domestic Workers Convention. Therefore, if Malaysia can amend and make additions to domestic legislation on domestic workers, it will be a progression in line with the international community that will convene during the 2010 ILO Conference on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
CARAM Asia is NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations . It is an open network of NGOs and CBOs, consisting of 29 members covering 17 countries in Asia and the Middle East. The CARAM Asia network is involved in action research, advocacy and capacity building with the aim of creating an enabling environment to empower migrants and their communities to reduce HIV vulnerability and to promote and protect the health rights of Asian migrant workers globally. Visit for more information on CARAM Asia.

Friday, 19 June 2009

A Weekly Day off is the Right of Foreign Domestic Workers

As a major destination country within the region, the Malaysian government’s move to enforce a weekly paid day off for FDWs by incorporating the provision in the Employment Act by the end of this year is certainly a mark of social change. However if the Malaysian government wishes to protect the rights of FDWs, there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive measure. This can only be achieved by incorporating a mandatory standard contract into the Employment Act to address the specificity of domestic work, issues related to gender and the home as a private sphere. Full story...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Compulsory Weekly Day Off For Domestic Workers

KUALA LUMPUR, June 9 (Bernama) -- Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) wants the government to declare a compulsory weekly day off for domestic workers to enable them to go to the Labour Department in case they need to report any mistreatment. Read More...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Equal Minimum Wage for FDWs in Hong Kong

April 16, 2009 - Press Statement: Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers (FDWs) under the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) reiterate our call to the Legislative Council (Leg Co) and Labour Department to include them in the statutory minimum wage (SMW). The FDWs render valuable services to the HK society as part of its workforce – not the least of which is taking care of the elderly and the children – and thus, to exclude them from the SMW is unjust and discriminatory.

If the FDWs are already covered by the Labour Ordinance, why are we now being excluded from such a fundamental labour policy as the SMW? Such a move will contravene even conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding wage and related matters such as ILO Convention No. 97 Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949.

With this exclusion, the wage of FDWs shall still be governed by the system of the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) which is just an Executive decision and thus can be subjected anytime to salary cuts, like in 1999 and 2003, especially now that a recession has engulfed Hong Kong and the rest of the world. It is ironic and very unprincipled to have a minimum wage reduced.

Furthermore, the ILO itself stated in its ILO–EC Conference in Brussels in 30–31 October 2008 that a minimum wage and collective bargaining may, for instance, help limit the decline in purchasing power and protect the most vulnerable workers. The number of low pay workers is likely to increase in Europe (because of the recession). A wage floor could thus play an important role in this difficult period as a tool for motivating workers and mitigating poverty. FDWs are included in the SMW’s of France and those outside Europe such as Australia and Ontario, Canada.

As one of the lowest paid workers in Hong Kong, FDWs urgently need the SMW as one possible way for increasing the wage to cope with the current crisis.

The AMCB also deems it dangerous for the LAB to use the condition that FDWs work 16 hours a day or more as a basis for the exclusion. This is tantamount to saying that such slave-like working hours is acceptable. While it is true that the working hours of FDWs are different from other workers, it is not impossible to set an SMW for FDWs as shown in other countries like France or Australia.

FDW wage should not be sacrificed merely because it is more convenient just to let the current exploitative condition remain.

The AMCB is already in the process of formulating a submission for the Labour Department on FDW inclusion to the SMW. We call on to the Labour Department, the LegCo and the HK government to heed the call of FDWs to be treated as workers and, thus, should not be excluded from a very important legislation as the minimum wage.

Finally, the AMCB calls on to our fellow workers among the local trade unions to remain steadfast in the demand to have all workers covered by the SMW. Only if all workers are protected can we really be confident that the rights of workers will be upheld.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Stop the Abuse of Foreign Domestic Workers

The recent attack on the foreign domestic worker known only as Siami, for simply making the porridge ‘too thin’ highlights the continued abuse that many foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are exposed to on a daily basis. Siami, 27, was subject to being scolded with water and then physically assaulted by her employer for this minor error. Cut off from the world, many work extremely long days consisting of between 12-16 hours and are usually deprived of a day off. Despite this, many in the public, political and social sphere continually overlook this occupation, failing even to define the occupation as work.

The abuses faced by FDWs should not be view as a consequence of merely a few bad employers, as there are many cases that go unreported and these include serious physical and sexual abuses. There remain few practical oversight mechanisms in place in order to provide domestic workers with the ability to report any abuses or ill treatment. Furthermore, domestic workers are deprived of one paid day off a week, and in fact most do not get a rest day off throughout the whole year and this further impedes their ability to cry for help.

Such abuses as those that Siami was exposed to occurred precisely because they are treated as “maids” and not like any other worker who are protected under existing labour legislation. Under Malaysian law, FDW are defined only as domestic servants under the Employment Act 1955. As such the Employment Act of Malaysia continues to categorically exclude domestic workers from labour protection provisions such as regulating hours of work, holidays, days off, termination, and overtime pay. Domestic workers are the lowest paid workers (especially Indonesians like Siami) in the absence of a legal minimum wage.

As a consequence of this, they do not enjoy the benefits and rights enshrined to other workers under this legislation or other labour laws such as the Industrial Relations Act or the Trade Union Act. It is very unfortunate that the only right they are entitled to is the ability to claim unpaid wages through the Labour Court.

Not only are FDW deprived of the labour rights accommodated to other forms of worker, their access to justice is also hindered by the fact that they can be deported once abusive employers cancel their existing work permits. While employers or agents hold a domestic workers’ passport if they escape, police may arrest and detain any foreign worker without valid documents. This means that these workers are often confined to the workplace where their means to escape abuse are extremely limited.

Employers are frequently known to ensure that they remain isolated and solely dependent on the family by forbidding workers to use telephones or leaving the house unaccompanied by employers. Added to this is the fact that the work permit issued by the Immigration department does not allow the domestic worker to change place of work or employer when she is abused.

The Immigration Department’s guidelines on the application for domestic workers clearly states that “The employer must allow the PRA (foreign domestic worker) one rest day weekly”. However, FDWs are often deprived of this rest day weekly except for the Filipino FDWs.

CARAM Asia strongly asserts that the Malaysian government must immediately revaluate the protection mechanisms of this demographic and mustn’t continue to view violations faced by DWs and FDWs as singular cases perpetrated by only a handful of employers.

This form of extreme institutionalised exploitation of domestic workers has been ongoing for the past three decades. In fact it is clear that the previously listed rights violations ferment an environment of bonded labour with intense servitude and debt bondage that constitutes trafficking in persons. Moreover, the cycle of abuses that are inflicted on FDWs will continue until the Malaysian government protects the rights of domestic workers by guaranteeing the rights through the law and setting up of appropriate oversight mechanisms.

CARAM Asia calls for the government to:

• Enact a Domestic Worker Act to grant equal labour rights to domestic workers just like any other rights given to other workers.
• Enforced a standard employment contract for FDWs without discrimination based on their nationalities.

The standard contract must ensure that:
• FDWs gets a weekly paid day off, Sick leave, maternity leave, and annual leave
• Employers are required to give workers at least continuous period of eight hours of sleep everyday, provide three adequate meals per day to domestic workers, over and above their salary, to provide a decent separate room meeting health standards
• Domestic workers be permitted to hold personnel belongings, among these are mobiles, the Koran, their passport, their contract, and so on
• Workplace injury compensation and comprehensive health insurance guaranteed
• Payment must be made directly to domestic workers monthly, not to the agent
• Domestic workers are required to fulfil the work duties laid out in the agreed contract and shall not be required to undertake tasks outside the job description with anyone else and other rights as accorded to other workers.

Malaysia must do more to meet with its exiting international obligations to protect domestic workers.
Malaysia has committed to uphold human rights protections as defined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). They must ensure that domestic law and its enforcement comply with their international obligations to protect the rights of women and to guarantee equality under the law. The CEDAW General Recommendation 26 specifically mentioned that domestic workers “are protected by labour laws including wage and hour regulations, health and safety codes, and vacation leave regulations.”

Malaysia has also ratified several ILO conventions, including the ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182), and the ILO Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98). As such, Malaysia has an obligation to protect the rights of workers as set forth in those treaties. Moreover, the ILO is in the process of developing a proposed Domestic Workers Convention to be adopted by 2011. Therefore, Malaysia should develop a domestic legislation specifically to protect domestic worker and become an example of best practises in this area prior to ILO’s Law and Practice report on the situation of domestic worker. As a member of ASEAN, Malaysia has also signed the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers Rights in 2007, and therefore should also uphold the principles laid out in the declaration to protect the rights of all migrant workers.

Commemoration of Flor Contemplacion’s Death

The International Migrant Alliance (IMA), an alliance of 112 progressive grassroot migrant workers’ organizations from all over the world, stands with Migrante International in commemorating the death of Flor Contemplation, an OFW who was hanged 14 years ago by Singapore Government. IMA honors Flor Contemplation and migrants from other countries who sacrificed their lives for the sake of their families’ survival and in the process, faced death abroad. IMA strongly condemns the failure of the Philippine Government and other sending governments, in saving the lives of their own people and in protecting their rights, welfare and access to justice.
Today, the death of Flor Contemplation symbolizes, for millions of Filipino migrant workers and those from other countries, the cruelty of Labour Export Program implemented by Filipino government and other sending countries, that follow agendas of neoliberal globalization that exchange remittances for the lives of migrant workers.
In the name of development, imperialist countries have established the GFMD to legitimize forced migration and intensify exploitation of migrant workers further in order to import as much cheap labor as they require without the attendant accountability to protect their rights as workers and human beings.
With the on going financial crisis, sending and receiving governments have created more reasons to exploit migrant workers to cover up the failure of neo liberal globalization. Many sending governments have declared their plan in increasing the number of export of migrants starting 2009 while receiving government through GFMD has expressed their needs of importing more migrant workers for the temporary, flexible and cheap labor migrants provide to monopolists.
Definitely more lives of migrant workers will be sacrificed by the imperialist countries and countless more will die due to the neglect of sending governments.
While Flor’s death continues to symbolize the condition that migrants face, the IMA also takes note of the fact that the tragedy that befell her has also triggered a surge of the progressive movement of overseas Filipinos at Flor’s death showed to the Filipinos and the international community the real face of the LEP of the Philippine government.
On this day, we are lamenting the tragic death of Flor. We decry the prevailing condition that makes Filipino migrants vulnerable to abuses and exploitation.
However, let this day also inspire us to pursue our actions for the rights and wellbeing of migrant workers.
Let there be no more Flor. Such will only happen in a society that is free from imperialist hold, truly democratic, just, peaceful and genuinely serves the interest of the people and not of the oppressors.
Long live international solidarity!

Eni Lestari
IMA Chairperson

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tea towel display: Voicing our Message!

In 2008 the Regional Campaign for Recognition of Domestic Work as Work highlighted the campaign call through the Tea towel display:
Voicing our Message! Read more here: