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.
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”.