PETALING JAYA: A coalition of NGOs has called on human resources minister M Saravanan to remove discriminatory clauses against domestic workers in labour laws.
Speaking on behalf of the Ke Arah 189 coalition, Irene Xavier said although Saravanan had changed the term “domestic servants” to “domestic employees” in the Employment Act 1955, it was insufficient to ensure the protection of rights of domestic workers.
“We cannot accept that the human resources minister has refused to change parts of the First Schedule that discriminate against domestic employees,” she said at a press conference in conjunction with International Domestic Workers Day.
She was referring to parts nine, 12 and 12a of the Act that exclude domestic workers from maternity protection, rest days, hours of work, holidays, other conditions of service, as well as termination, lay-off and retirement benefits.
“The minister must rethink his position as he has undermined the government’s efforts to prevent forced labour by deliberately keeping these discriminatory laws,” she said.
She added that the First Schedule fell within Saravanan’s purview.
“He just needs to sign a document and give back these rights to domestic workers. It is a feasible and fast process,” she said.
Irene also called on the women, family and community development ministry to recognise that these laws are gender discriminatory, especially since it is a feminised sector.
Indonesian ambassador Hermono said while the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on domestic worker rights, signed between Malaysia and Indonesia, highlighted these rights, it was not legally binding.
“But it is morally binding and I hope that it is adhered to and will improve the way domestic workers are treated.”
He said the MoU is the most comprehensive and progressive one between the two countries and that it will be used as a “benchmark” to protect domestic workers in other countries.
“The road ahead is paved with challenges and it is tough to change the mindset of violence, but we must enforce it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tenaganita programme coordinator Alya Zulaikha said employers must be held accountable for any mistreatment of domestic workers.
“It is time for Malaysia to move away from this ‘master and servant mentality’ and treat them as workers with rights,” she said.