Domestic workers, not maids

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Of all the migrant population, foreign domestic workers are the most vulnerable category of workers, observes CARAM Asia. Being excluded from legally protected occupations, women domestic workers are also isolated from social as well as health protection laws and policies.


In Asia, domestic work is only recognised and covered under the labour laws of Hong Kong . The Malaysian Employment Act 1955 mentioned domestic worker as “servant” who is not entitled to the same labour rights as other workers. Therefore, on the occasion of the International Labour Day, Caram Asia urged governments in Asia to recognise domestic work as work.

Cynthia Gabriel, Regional Coordinator for CARAM Asia said that governments in both origin and destination countries should extend labour protections to domestic workers.

“Stop calling them maids! They are workers who deserve a weekly day off, standard working hours, compensation for workplace injury and a minimum wage,” Gabriel said.

Without legal protection under basic labour laws, many domestic workers suffered from abuse and exploitation.

According to Tenaganita, CARAM Asia’s member, since May 2007 to present, there were six cases of domestic workers who died from violence reported in Malaysian newspapers. Human Rights Watch reported that between 1999 and 2005, at least 147 migrant domestic workers died from workplace accidents or suicide, in Singapore .

Of all the migrant population, foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are the most vulnerable category of workers. Being excluded from legally protected occupations, women domestic workers are also isolated from social as well as health protection laws and policies.

The lack of adequate rest hours, appropriate working conditions, and a work environment free of abuse directly contribute to their poor state of health.

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Meanwhile, a majority of FDWs leave home in the prime age of reproduction. Hindered by language barriers and a lack of awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues, they do not know how to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

“Since they are trapped in the private homes of employers, they also face the risk of sexual violence, which in turn might lead to sexual reproductive health problems,” Gabriel elaborated.

CARAM Asia called on the governments in Asia to enact labour laws to protect them or amend existing labour laws that do not protect the rights of domestic workers.

Citing countless cases and numerous forms of violation against FDWs at the hands of recruitment agencies and employers, Gabriel also said perpetrators must be subjected to prosecution and scrutiny by governments to ensure that abuse will stop.

It is essential that the rights of FDWs to seek redress for any wrong committed against her to be recognised.

“She should have the right to stay and work during the time of a pending case must be ensured. Otherwise her right to redress is only on the paper but not in practice,” Gabriel added.

Governments in country of origin also need to develop policy and invest in programs for reintegration, skill training, and financial saving for returnee FDWs so they will not have to migrate time and again. Governments have to ensure that migration for employment as domestic workers must become a choice, not because of the lack of it.

CARAM Asia is an open network of NGOs and CBOs, consisting of 28 member partners covering 17 countries in Asia and the Middle East . The CARAM Asia network is involved in action research, advocacy and capacity building with the aim of creating an enabling environment to empower migrants and their communities to reduce HIV vulnerability and to promote and protect the health rights of Asian migrant workers globally. Visit www.caramasia.org for more information on CARAM Asia.

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