Group calls for tougher laws a year after domestic worker’s death

Tenaganita founder Aaegile Fernandez after lighting a candle in memory of Indonesian Adelina Jemira Sao who died last year.

PETALING JAYA: Civil society group Tenaganita today urged the government to take serious measures to protect migrant workers following a string of headline-grabbing abuse cases involving domestic workers in recent years.

Its executive director Glorene A Das, calling for tougher laws, said there were close to 300,000 domestic workers in the country including undocumented workers.

She claimed these workers, classified as domestic servants under the Employment Act 1955, were effectively denied all rights accorded to workers in other fields.

“As a result, many employers feel that they can subject their domestic workers to sustained abuse and torture with impunity, which sometimes end tragically as in the case of Adelina, and many others before her,” she said at a press conference today to commemorate the death anniversary of Adelina Jemira Sao.

In conjunction with the function, Adelina’s mother Yohana Banunaek spoke from Indonesia in a live video session with Tenaganita, asking for justice on behalf of her daughter.

She claimed her daughter had died due to abuse, not because of sickness.

Glorene Das (second from right) says a law to cover the entirety of domestic work is needed to increase domestic workers’ access to justice.

On Feb 11 last year, Adelina, who was allegedly abused by her employers, died from her injuries at the Bukit Mertajam Hospital.

The 26-year-old had been working at a semi-detached house in Taman Kota Permai.

She was spotted, with wounds on her hands and legs, by a concerned neighbour. She had also been spotted sleeping next to a Rottweiler for two months.

Glorene said there was many cases similar to Adelina’s that went unreported.

She said that it was important to remember Adelina’s death and use it as a plea for stronger protective regulations and legislation in Malaysia.

In the past five years, she said, about 2,000 cases of domestic abuse and human trafficking had been reported to Tenaganita.

In 2018 alone, Tenaganita sheltered about 200 migrant workers, she added.

She said only when the rights of domestic workers were protected by laws, and domestic workers recognised as workers, would employers, agents, and Malaysians and Indonesians as a whole, ensure respect and dignity for domestic workers.

Citing several cases of the death of migrant workers, Glorene said it was due to employers feeling as if they owned these migrant workers, resulting in their being treated as slaves.

“We often learn that the worker is never given a rest day off per week, along with other violations such as the withholding of her passport, and of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

“We don’t want to see another death of an innocent domestic worker in Malaysia.”