Monday, June 22, 2009

One-day compulsory rest for domestic maids

Will not solve their abuse

The recent spate of domestic maid abuse cases that led to the threat by the Indonesian government to temporarily halt sending their domestic helpers to Malaysia is a blow for our reputation as being friendly, kind and hospitable particularly to foreigners.

To demonstrate its grave concern for the welfare of these foreign workers, the government had introduced a number of new regulations for potential employers, the latest being the compulsory weekly one-day rest for all maids. Its motive for introducing the compulsory day off may be good and commendable but it is not the main contention in the issue of maid abuse as most would agree that adequate rest must be given to the maids. However indiscriminate enforcement of this rule may create unnecessary inconvenience and disadvantages to the majority of employers who are considerate and caring for their maids.

Maid abuse by employers is a serious offence that must not be condoned whatsoever but it must be remembered that the vast majority of Malaysian employers treat their maids reasonably well and take good care of their welfare. We know that there are many employers who treat them like members of their own families, being caring, kind, considerate and humane. These employers must be given some leeway to manage their maids in the way they see it as best for them. By implementing a blanket one-day rest rule for all maids the good employers may be unfairly punished whereas the errant ones may find their way out to escape the effects of the law.

It is very sad that many of our maids are lured into the country with false promises. Many are made to believe that they will be employed as factory workers and not as domestic maids. They react with anger and resentment when they realize the truth on landing on our shores. They just wait to escape at the slightest opportunity they get. Who will take the financial and legal responsibility if these maids run away?

It must also be remembered that the vast majority of our domestic maids come from very poor socio-economic background with low literacy rate. Many of them are ignorant on managing their meager income and I am afraid that by allowing them day off will result in overspending leaving with no savings when they leave the country on completion of their contract. Many employers go out of the way to act as financial advisors to help their maids to save as much as they can while they are with them.

Giving them a day off and allowing them full freedom to go will only be subjecting them to unnecessary risks like robbery, assault, rape and cheating. Some of them could easily be lured into immoral activities that expose them to all forms of diseases, drug abuse and crime which the employer can least afford to be involved. As an employer is directly responsible for the safety of his maid, it would be grave injustice if a good employer is dragged into such problems of his maid which is no fault of his. Wouldn’t it be better if the employer is allowed some freedom and discretion to provide what is best for her?

Education not compulsion is the key to overcome the problem of maid abuse. The maid and the employer must be educated on their rightful roles and duties. They must be educated to realize that they should be engaged for mutual benefit and the terms of their employment agreement must be adhered to strictly at all times. A rest day may be given if the maid chooses to have it but she must remain in the vicinity of the watchful eyes of the employer. However if she opts for monetary compensation then it should be granted if the employer needs her services on the rest day.

Human Resources Ministry must conduct an in depth study into the issue of compulsory one-day off rule before implementing it indiscriminately. It should get the feedback from the employers, maid agencies and other relevant bodies before coming to any conclusive decisions. Although there are advantages and disadvantages of enforcing such a rule, there seems to be more negative repercussions than positive ones.
There are good and bad employers so are domestic maids. What is important is to ensure that the majority who are good should not be punished because of a few bad hats. The latter be it employers or maids must be sought out and punished in accordance with the laws.

Over sixty years ago Mahatma Gandhi said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. Today it may be more apt to say that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its citizens treat their fellow humans regardless of race, creed and social status.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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