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Chua Soi Lek cautions against day off for maids

PETALING JAYA, 18 June 2009: While civil societies welcomed the government’s decision to provide a mandatory off-day for domestic workers, MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has called on the government to review its plan.

The Bar Council and regional network Caram Asia today even urged the government to go a step further and amend the Employment Act to provide better protection for domestic workers.

But, Chua said the government first needed to ensure domestic workers would not “abuse” their day off. He also expressed concerns that a day off would result in popular public places being flooded by foreign workers.

“Unjust and unacceptable”

Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said it was “unjust and unacceptable” that domestic workers can be required to work 20-hour days, seven days a week, all year round.

“Such labour practices, which are a form of bonded labour, are abhorrent and inhumane, and we call on those who oppose the government’s proposal to examine their conscience,” said Ragunath in a statement today.

In responding to a 16 June 2009 announcement by Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S Subramaniam that their day off would be part of a worker’s employment contract, Ragunath said local domestic workers generally did not have such contracts.

He added that aggrieved workers would have to pursue legal remedies under private contract law, which accords them less protection.

“It is crucial that this proposal be implemented by amending the Employment Act because the imposition of a statutory obligation will have far greater weight, and will allow the ministry to enforce the provision and prosecute those who breach it,” he said.

Caram Asia, which works on migration and health issues, also said it was time that Malaysian society recognised domestic workers’ contribution to the nation, and uphold their rights.

In a statement today, it said Malaysia was obligated to protect its workers as the country has ratified several International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

It suggested that Malaysia incorporate a mandatory standard contract into the Employment Act that would clearly state the terms and condition of work and remuneration.

Additionally, the contract should prohibit employers or agents from keeping a domestic workers’ passport and any other personal legal documents, Caram Asia said.

It explained that under the current Act, domestic workers were defined as “servants”, and were therefore excluded from regulations relating to such issues as rest days, work hours, and termination benefits.

The Bar Council also urged the government to develop a simple procedure whereby an abused domestic worker could change his or her employer without being repatriated.

“…many domestic workers tolerate severe abuse to avoid repatriation,” said Ragunath.

Chua’s concerns

MCA’s Chua said he was worried about the implementation and the impact of granting a mandatory off-day to domestic workers.

“There are a total of 300,000 foreign maids in Malaysia. If all of them are given a day off on Sunday, imagine what will happen to popular places like tourist spots, shopping malls and parks,” he said in his blog today.

He cited the example of Puduraya on Sunday, where one would think one was in Indonesia or Bangladesh because all foreign construction workers were given a day off on Sunday. He said one would feel very “unMalaysian” among that crowd.

Chua added that the government must ensure that domestic workers would not abuse their day off.

“There are many maids who have gone missing after their day off because they befriended other foreign men and ran away,” he said, adding that some even conspired with other foreigners to steal from their employer and endanger their employer’s life.

He said the government should develop a proper system to enforce this new ruling so that it would not be “another piece of legislation looking good on paper”.

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5 Responses to “Chua Soi Lek cautions against day off for maids”

  1. Noel Dass says:

    [Chua] is obviously among the many Malaysians who feel that foreign domestic workers are sub-human entities to be managed and controlled! The adverse reaction to this ruling by the likes of Chua and many others is simply appalling! It reflects xenophobia at its worst and arrogance as well as ethnocentrism amongst Malaysians.

    Chua’s audacity to suggest that one would feel very “unMalaysian” in that crowd is even more ludicrous! I truly wonder what Chua’s definition of “Malaysian” is. Chua and [others who share his view] should bear in mind that there is something far greater than being Malaysian: it is called being human!

    I am truly sickened by the sheer disregard for human rights amongst my fellow countryfolk in this aspect!

  2. Hong says:

    To not give maids one day off per week on the grounds that they will flood public places demonstrates a mentality that regards domestic helpers as not quite persons who should not be seen or have the ability to take part in the social life of the country. It also totally ignores the richness that such interaction can bring to the social fabric of Malaysia.

    The “un-Malaysian” comment also smacks of selective xenophobia, and is derived from the same line of reasoning that Malay chauvinists use to deride the presence of ethnic minority Malaysians in the country. Plus, if Chua is truly worried about a particular locality becoming “un-Malaysian” because of foreigners congregating there, it is funny that he does not make the same complaint about areas famous for their high concentration of, say, Koreans or Japanese.

    Finally, saying that “many maids … have gone missing after their day off” and “conspired with other foreigners to steal from their employer” is neither here nor there. We cannot deprive all domestic workers of their right to favourable working conditions on the grounds that a minority might do something bad on their day off. It is not the place of this sort of legislation to deal with things like that. Honestly, if we want to deal with home invasions and the like, we should be looking to ensure that the police do their job a little better.

  3. Pratamad says:

    Obviously CSL needs to put himself into the maids’ shoes. That’s all.

  4. Thomas Lee says:

    Why is the MCA not respecting the fundamental human right of foreign maids to have a day off each week?

    In fact, in addition to the weekly off-day, they should not be allowed to work more than 10 hours a day.

    As a Christian, I feel terribly ashamed of many so-called church members who refuse to give their maids their weekly off-day, although it is the 4th of the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and the Bible tells us that even God rested on the 7th day after six days of working on the creation.

    The Christian Federation of Malaysia, which comprises the Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) and the Roman Catholic Church of Malaysia, should come out with a statement endorsing the weekly off-day for the maids as it is a biblical injunction to allow everyone, and even animals, a day off from labour.

    To give the excuse that the maids may get into bad company during the day off is simply an insult to our fellow human being. Why don’t we stop allowing our working young, or even old, people the day off, too, as they too could get into trouble if given the free time?

    People who object to other human beings having their well-deserved rest day are selfish, greedy and hypocrites to the core.

  5. Jason says:

    Utter nonsense. Housewives should also stay at home on working days, too many cars on the roads (I’m being practical). For God’s sake, it should never have been slavery in the first place.

    They need a day off, period. No debate, no discussion.

    P.S. From a capitalistic point of view this can open up a new market.

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