Indonesian Domestic Workers’ Rights in Malaysia

Pacific Prospective features the research of graduate students.

Memo #75 (The first Memo from the Theme, Labour Migration from Southeast Asia)

Angela Wong – angela.wong27 [at] gmail.com

Malaysia has experienced a shortage of domestic workers since 2009. This is because Indonesia banned its domestic workers from finding employment in Malaysia, in response to reports of abuse. Negotiations on an inter-state Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to increase labour protection for Indonesian domestic workers have stalled on issues such as minimum wage, days off, and the right of domestic workers to retain their identity documents. The two governments are set to sign the MoU in May 2011, but Malaysia’s recent actions indicate that it may not be entirely committed to the protection of migrant domestic workers.

Out of 93 governments that submitted observations to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) draft of the Convention for Decent Work for Domestic Workers, only Malaysia opposed the Convention. They requested that it be reconceived as a Recommendation on the basis that “domestic work is not seen as ordinary employment.”

In particular, Malaysia asked that an Article be revised to specify that in addition to domestic workers being entitled to keep their travel and identity documents, they may also ask their employers to hold such documents for safe-keeping. Clearly, this request aims to protect employers who retain domestic workers’ identity documents against their wishes in order to restrict their movement and confine them to the household.

If a migrant domestic worker runs away from her employer and is discovered to be without proper identification in public, Malaysia’s immigration laws dictate that she is automatically subject to arrest. In a country that has shown itself to be relatively hostile to low-skilled foreign workers, it would be difficult for Indonesian domestic workers to challenge their employers.

Even though it has been reported that the MoU will be signed in May, negotiations may fail once again as in 2009 and 2010. It may be in Indonesia’s best interest to wait until after the ILO’s 100th Annual Session (scheduled for June 2011) to sign the MoU, as Malaysia will either show its support or opposition to the Convention for Decent Work for Domestic Workers. This response will reveal if Malaysia is truly committed to improving labour conditions for Indonesian domestic workers.

Angela Wong – student, Master of Arts – Asia Pacific Policy Studies (MAAPPS), The University of British Columbia.

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