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OVER the past few years, things have not looked good for Indonesian domestic helpers in this country. Horrific cases of abuse such as those involving Nirmala Bonat in 2004, Ceriyati Dapin in 2007, and then Siti Hajar in 2009 didn’t just make the local headlines. They also raised Malaysia’s profile internationally, albeit for the wrong reasons.
Despite media attention and public outrage, the abuse has not stopped. In October 2009, Indonesian maid Mautik Hani was rescued by police from her employer’s home after being abused and locked up in the toilet. She did not survive her injuries.
Are Malaysian employers just cruel monsters? If so, then why just Indonesian maids? Why have we not heard cases of ill-treatment of and cruelty towards domestic workers of other nationalities, such as the Filipinos?
Why Filipinos fare better
Currently, there are some 280,000 foreign maids working in Malaysia. Indonesians make up more than 90%, although the numbers are thought to be higher due to undocumented workers. The remaining numbers comprise around 15,000 foreign maids from the Philippines, and between 1,000 and 2,000 from Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.
It is said that on average, 50 cases of maid abuse involving Indonesians are reported each year. Indonesia, however, says 1,000 maids suffer from violence here annually.
Is it just a case of proportion? Do we hear more cases of abused Indonesian maids because of their whopping numbers in this country compared with other nationalities?
Francisco (Courtesy of Amalialisa
Francisco) Amalialisa Francisco, who works for the Filipina Services Committee in Selangor, says she does think it has to do with numbers. But, she adds, it’s more to do with the age of maids who are sent here to work. “The thing is, employers think maids should know how to do everything. But some maids do not have experience, and therefore frustrations arise,” she says.
Indonesian maids are comparably much younger than Filipino ones. Hence, they are less knowledgeable and have less confidence. “Sometimes the Indonesian maids can be as young as 15 or 16, while the average age for those from the Philippines is 24,” Francisco tells The Nut Graph.
Enrico Martin, who heads the Segambut Filipino Association, says Filipino domestic workers are better able to please their employer because they are better educated and trained. He says the Filipino Welfare Resource Centre, established under the embassy’s Labour Office here, provides training in courses such as computer classes, cooking, baking and others.
“I think it is the language factor; employers do not understand what [Indonesian domestic workers] say sometimes, and vice versa. This may lead to frustrations,” Josephine Garcia, a Filipino domestic worker, notes.
Not just Malaysia
How do Indonesian maids fare elsewhere? It seems that in Singapore, cases of abuse usually involve Indonesian maids as well. One of the most infamous cases involved Muawanatul Chasanah, a 19-year-old who died after being severely beaten by her employer.
Garcia, who has worked in Dubai and Taiwan, notes that she has heard of abuse and ill-treatment of Indonesian maids even in those countries. Does this mean, then, that Indonesian workers are more vulnerable to abuse because of other factors, such as whether their government is doing enough to ensure their protection?
GarciaIt was reported in January 2009 that Filipino maids in Middle Eastern countries like Jordan were reporting cases of abuse. Manila imposed a ban on sending more workers to Jordan unless the Middle Eastern nation enacted regulations to protect Filipino citizens.
It is apparent that once the Philippines government finds out about such abuses, their protective instincts fire up. This is similar to what the Indonesian government seems to be attempting now with regard to sending their nationals to Malaysia.
Elsa Watson, who now counsels fellow Filipino maids who face problems in Malaysia, says the support system for Filipino maids here and all over the world is unmatched. Indeed, there are no less than 25 different types of Filipino associations listed in Malaysia alone. These include support groups, Christian congregations, and sports associations.
“We are also taught about culture in orientation and re-training programmes, and we make an effort to understand our employers, such as learning what Muslim families expect and require,” says Watson, who has lived here for 23 years and is now married to a Malaysian.
Watson “But the main thing is that the Philippine government really protects their maids everywhere, all around the world. And for the workers themselves, they know their rights and the law. And they will fight for themselves,” Watson said.
Employment agencies here must sign and stamp contracts with the embassy for every Filipino domestic worker brought in, with the contract stating that the maid is entitled to an off day every Sunday. This is a far cry from what Indonesian workers are entitled to. Indeed, there is no legal requirement as yet for Indonesians to be given off days.
“[Employers] must allow [the helpers] at least two days off in a month so they can also have time for themselves. After six days of hard work from 5am to 11pm, I think the Sunday off for them is crucial. They relax, make time for their friends, and even come for extra courses,” Martin, from the Segambut Filipino Association, says of Filipino domestic helpers working in Malaysia.
Filipino helpers also get paid more because of their government’s lobbying. In October 2006, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration set a standardised minimum salary for all Filipino maids deployed overseas. FIlipino helpers now get paid US$400 (RM1,355) a month, up from US$200 (RM677), an increase that surprised even the Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, Victariano M Lecaros. Conversely, Indonesian helpers only get between RM500 and RM600, or less.
After the announcement, Lecaros even urged Filipino maids to do more than just simple chores to justify the raise in their salaries and live up to their billing as “super maids”.
While both Indonesians and Filipinos work as domestic helpers in Malaysia and elsewhere, Indonesians are clearly more vulnerable to abuse than Filipinos are. Filipinos are better protected from potentially abusive employers because of a range of factors, from age and education to maturity.
But what seems equally critical is government muscle and community support. With the Filipinos, there is a clear system that ensures they are less likely to be bullied or abused. With the Indonesians, the lack of community organisation and a government that is less caring about its citizens abroad means that the abuse will continue — no less because the host country is unlikely to ensure that foreign nationals from the lower-income group are treated humanely and justly as human beings.
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