Domestic workers tell of ‘torture’ by employers

Tenaganita says it handled 556 cases of abuse of migrant workers in 2018 alone.

PETALING JAYA: Ida, 39, moved to Malaysia from Indonesia in search of a decent livelihood, but within three months her dreams were shattered.

She was subjected to physical and mental abuse by her employer, even for petty mistakes.

“They always got mad at me for no reason. Sometimes, the wife would hit me and slap me in the face,” Ida, who worked as a domestic helper for a family in Mont Kiara, said at the Tenaganita office.

On one occasion, she claimed, she was slapped for being unable to read the time on the clock correctly. She was so shaken up that she urinated on the spot.

Ida eventually decided to leave her job, and sought help from Tenaganita, an NGO working for women’s rights.

She also alleged that she had been cheated by the agency which hired her. The company didn’t give her a proper work permit and even refused to return her passport, she said.

Another woman, Nora, 28, also recounted facing similar abuse at work.

For the past five years, she claimed, she was held virtually captive as her employer never returned her passport and made her work “night and day”. The woman said she had to work at her employer’s shop in Klang after finishing her work as a domestic helper.

But despite all her hard work, her employer withheld her monthly salary.

“I was supposed to receive more but I was only paid RM500 per month. And I was not even given that money to hold.

“I had to ask from them whenever I wanted some money for expenses. I could not even save it on my own and send it to my family in Indonesia.

“They tortured me, I was made to work like a slave with no rest days. I had to argue with my former employer over this and she slapped me. So I just walked out of the house,” she said.

Nora has since filed a complaint with the Labour Department and is waiting for payments due to her.

Tenaganita has been assisting her since mid-2017, after she left her employer.

Tenaganita activist Joseph M Paul said in 2018 alone, the NGO handled 556 cases of abuse of migrant workers.

In most of the cases, he said, the employer had not made payment due to the workers.

“In theory, all workers have access to justice through the Labour Department, but in practice, most migrant workers are denied the right to redress on the grounds that they do not have a valid work permit, even though it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the workers are properly documented.

“When faced with a migrant worker who does not have a work permit or does not have the passport in his or her possession, the Labour Department seems to take the easy way out by refusing to register their complaint on the grounds that they are ‘illegal’,” he said.

But Joseph said “no human being is illegal”, even if they are not properly documented. He also said there were cases of workers going to file a police complaint against an abusive employer only to be arrested for not being in possession of identification papers.