Signing of new Malaysia-Indonesia MOU: An Asean PR exercise?

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As nations move forward to develop sustainability, Malaysia and Indonesia slide backwards and continue to sustain a form of modern-day slavery, writes Tenaganita.

Photo credit: freemarket.my

The new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak in Bali at a meeting on 16 November with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is not only a disappointment but a continuum of an exploitative system designed to deny domestic workers their rights.

The signing of the MOU takes place at a time when the Cambodian government has announced a total freeze on recruitment, training and sending of women from Cambodia for domestic work as cases have surfaced, revealing that Malaysia is an unsafe destination country for domestic workers. The situation clearly has not changed, since the freeze imposed by the Indonesian Government in 2009.

Both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have not made any fundamental changes in ensuring that a proper legal framework for the protection of domestic workers is put in place in Malaysia. There is no recognition of domestic work as work in the Employment Act of Malaysia. It has creates a situation where domestic workers who work in an individualised isolated environment in a private domain become extremely vulnerable.

The Prime Minister also announced that there would not be a minimum wage, with the salary decided between the employer and employee according to market rate. How can a domestic worker who works alone in a private domain effectively bargain for a decent wage? This form of suppression is further compounded: other basic rights such as decent work conditions, the right to association, the right to redress and access to justice are not determined. The new MOU is indeed a clear roadmap to forced labour and exploitation.

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In Malaysia, workers are standing up for their rights and demanding a basic decent living wage, while potential migrant domestic workers are told that market forces will determine their wages. We would like Prime Minister Najib to clarify what market forces determine the salary.

There are no products manufactured out in the market for sale through domestic work. Is the Prime Minister then stating that domestic workers are commodities to be bargained for between the agent and the employer? Doesn’t this determinant make the domestic worker a slave to be bought and sold at a so-called ceiling price of over RM4000 as decided by both governments?

The whole processes of negotiations between the two countries have been shrouded in secrecy. The development of the MOU between Malaysia and Indonesia is severely lacking in transparency. Discussions have not been held with trade unions, migrant associations or civil society organisations. As a consequence, the potential domestic workers will not be informed of their rights and thus will be open to exploitation by agents and employers.

The MOU signed sometime in May 2011 with Indonesia reflected similar terms of a day off, passports to be held by the domestic worker and a separate bank account opened for her. Nothing has changed. These three conditions will not be practised as the Human Resources Minister stated that the day off can be replaced with overtime and the passport can be kept by the employer for safety reasons. There are no mechanisms in place for monitoring these practices, especially since the domestic workers are not covered under the Employment Act except for payment of unpaid wages.

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These omissions and commissions only reveal that the current policy and Memorandum of Understanding do not protect rights of the domestic workers and thus Malaysia remains an unsafe place to seek employment. Tenaganita’s recent study on recruitment in Indonesia revealed that families do not want to send their daughters to Malaysia to work as their lives will be threatened. Every parent wants to ensure the safety of their children.

Both governments, Malaysia and Indonesia, have signed the agreement merely as a public relations exercise as the Asean Summit takes place – or is President Susilo assisting Prime Minister Najib to gain brownie points for the coming general elections? There is absolutely no commitment to the protection of rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in migration, the domestic workers. It is even shameful that such an MOU is agreed just after the international community adopted with a strong affirmation the ILO Convention on Decent work for Domestic workers.

It is also shameful to Asean as a whole as the MOU in no way works towards the Asean charter where equality, freedom and justice are the key pillars for the development of an Asean community. Tenaganita rejects the MOU signed and the renewed recruitment of domestic workers without a clear legal framework in place to ensure rights are protected.

As nations move forward to develop sustainability, Malaysia and Indonesia slide backwards and continue to sustain this form of modern-day slavery manifested in domestic labour. There must be respect for the dignity of the person, decent work provided, and a due diligence process covering recruitment, employment and return must be worked out. This can only happen when Asean countries, especially Malaysia as a destination country, ratify the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers 2011.

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