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Abuse of domestic workers by agencies hardly reported

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The coverage of issues of abuses of domestic workers centres around employers, but Concerned Citizen wonders why she has never read any news about the agents. Are the agents themselves free from abusing domestic workers?

I hardly ever read the mainstream media as they never fail to exasperate me each time I do. The last time I did was on 15 June, when I browsed through a copy of The Star, which was on my table while waiting for my lunch at a restaurant.

The latest juicy commotion is about domestic workers ala Indonesian maids. I literally almost fell off my chair when I read what the Wanita MCA chief Paduka Chew Mei Fun so confidentally (and bravely) proposed that maid agencies take up the role to “protecting” these workers from abuse.

I am attached to a non- profit organisation which runs a non-profit care centre and I must openly admit that we do rely on domestic helpers for the day-to-day operations of the centre. I have personally dealt with a strings of maid agencies and asking them to ensure the safety of domestic workers is like soaking your hands in a pail of kerosene before putting it in the fire in order to prevent your hands from from being burnt.

The coverage of issues of abuses of domestic workers centres around the employers, but I wonder why I have never read any news that mentions anything about the agents. Are the agents themselves free from abusing domestic workers? Are they like how Chew Mei Fun so highly regarded them as protective angels? Or are they the main culprits, who are protected by the media for reasons only known to them.

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I shall briefly share my personal encounters with these inhumane people in some of the maid agencies who seem to be highly regarded by our leaders.

Siti was brought from a remote land in Jawa away from any civilisation. She was promised a lucrative salary and good living conditions. So she signed up with her local middleman and paid him the registration fees. The middleman then signed her up with an Indonesian agent. The Indonesian agent provided her biodata to a Malaysian agency. Upon her arrival in Malaysia, she was sent to an affluent home.

Siti did not receive a salary for six months because she had taken an upfront loan in Indonesia which was paid in advance from her employer. In the 7th month, she was sent back to the agent as her employer found her unsuitable for the family. She was later sent to a new home and had to start from scratch, meaning she would not receive her salary for another six months. This means that Siti would be working for a year without pay.

Another case, Mina. While wandering about in the streets of Medan, she was approached by a Malaysian who promised her a lucrative salary in Malaysia. She was brought to Malaysia under a tourist visa and she had to surrender all her jewellery and money to a Malaysian agent. She was constantly beaten up by her agent. She was sent to different houses on different days to do house cleaning. She was not given any food until she came back from work late at night.

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These are just two real stories. If one probes deeper, one would discover a complex labyrinth of abuse of human beings in every form imaginable. Domestic workers heading to Malaysia are not properly trained; they are traded like human commodities between the Indonesian agents and Malaysian agents.

It looks as if the agencies handling these domestic workers in Malaysia are profiting from the suffering of many innocent people. I wonder what went through Chew Mei Fun’s head when she so proudly proclaimed this great idea of hers. Some domestic workers never get their salaries which are being held by the agents or employers.

There is near slavery going on here that will never be reported in the media .The culprits should be taken to task so these cruel acts can be stopped. Unless there is real sincerity to seriously look into this matter, such conditions of near slavery will continue.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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