PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar Council wants Putrajaya to stop identifying domestic workers as servants as a first step towards recognising their economic and social contributions.
Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Committee chairperson M Ramachelvam said it was unfortunate that the Employment Act 1955 and the proposed 2014 Regulations (Terms & Conditions of Employment) used the phrase “domestic servants”.
“Even the Guidelines and Tips for Employers of Foreign Domestic Helpers launched two months ago uses the term ‘servants’,” he told FMT on the outcome of a meeting with representatives of the human resources ministry, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and local and foreign civil society members on June 16.
The meeting was held in conjunction with International Domestic Workers Day and the sixth anniversary of the adoption of the ILO Convention No 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
The Employment Act defines a domestic servant as a person employed in a private home. This includes cooks, house servants, butlers, children’s nurses, gardeners, washermen, watchmen and drivers.
However, this category of workers is excluded from key protection granted under the law.
Ramachelvam said the ILO convention was founded on the premise that domestic workers are neither servants nor second-class workers.
“The present labels used to refer to domestic workers are demeaning and degrading. They reinforce the negative stereotyping of domestic work and domestic workers.”
He said domestic work had been historically undervalued and was not given due recognition for its social and economic value.
Ramachelvam added that the proposed regulations did not address many key labour rights safeguards that should be granted to domestic workers.
He said the human resources minister should remove the existing exclusions under the First Schedule to the Employment Act that denies the rights of domestic employees.
“Unlike other employees, domestic workers do not enjoy the right to terminate their contract, maternity benefits, rest days, hours of work and holidays, and termination, lay-off and retirement benefits,” he said.
Ramachelvam said there were about 132,000 foreign domestic workers in the country, most of them employed as maids.
However, it is unclear how many locals are employed in this sector.