NGOs question minister’s commitment to protecting domestic workers

Representatives of Ke Arah 189 at a press conference in Petaling Jaya today.

PETALING JAYA: A coalition of NGOs fighting for the rights of domestic workers is pressing Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran for greater commitment to the development of a standalone Domestic Workers Act.

At a press conference today, members of Ke Arah 189, which includes rights groups and trade unions, said they were encouraged by the government’s intention to create a Domestic Employee Regulations 2019 under the Employment Act 1955.

However, they said this was not enough.

Ke Arah 189 is named after the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

Other NGOs in Ke Arah 189 include the Indonesian domestic workers’ group, Serantau, and Filipino domestic workers’ group, AMMPO.

Irene Xavier, an adviser to Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor, said on May 16, the ministry had sent the relevant NGOs a proposed draft of the regulations.

A month later, she said, they submitted their recommendations to the ministry but have yet to receive any feedback.

She said the draft had not contained many specific details on the protection of workers, including entitlement to Socso, working hours and regulatory inspections by the authorities.

“Over the years, domestic work has been excluded from many clauses under the Employment Act, resulting in gross violations of domestic workers’ rights,” Xavier said.

She added that this had contributed to “horrendous” working conditions.

She said the government’s proposed regulations could serve as an interim measure but stressed the need for a standalone act.

She acknowledged Kula’s statement that the government is working towards such an act, but said she had concerns over his intentions.

“When we look at his record over the last one year or so of being the HR minister, he has made many statements and he has taken back those statements.

“This seems to be a kind of pattern with him, so if you ask us what his intentions are, we will say his record shows his intentions are not clear.”

She said Kula had yet to call them for consultation on the matter, and that they feared it could take “years” before this happens.

“So we want to remind him that we’re with him.”

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das said the government’s lack of consistency was worrying.

“I think it’s very clear that we should work towards protecting or increasing the protection of domestic workers,” she said, adding that the case of Adelina Lisao had raised questions about the country’s criminal justice system.

She was referring to the acquittal of Ambika MA Shan who was charged with murdering her domestic worker.

It was reported that neighbours had spotted Adelina sleeping with a dog in the compound of Ambika’s home and that there were burn marks and bruises on her body.

Glorene also said any regulations pertaining to the intake of foreign domestic workers must be tied to bilateral agreements and not memorandums of understanding.

She said this would ensure that regulations for the protection of domestic workers would be taken seriously by both Malaysia as well as source countries.

In 2017, data from the Malaysian Maid Employers Association showed there were more than 250,000 registered domestic workers in Malaysia.