Domestic helpers being screened. (Image: www.ibtimes.co.uk)
The recent case of a 12-year-old being kidnapped by her family's domestic helper
has caused a ripple of concern over our country, especially for those who already have employed their own at home to take care of their children. Allowing someone to enter your house and live with you is not an easy thing to do, and striking a balance between trusting them and not being paranoid is also difficult.
According to the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resources, there are an estimated 180,000 migrant domestic workers in Malaysia, a majority of them from Indonesia, as of June 2013.
Over the years, we have seen policy changes implemented by both Indonesia and Malaysia, such as the increase of minimum wage of domestic helpers to RM900 and the Indonesian government has also made a stand to stop exporting their maids as of 2017.
To understand this conflict, we need to keep in mind that both sides are humans with feelings. Rojak Daily
has approached employers who have had positive and negative experiences with their helper, as well as compiled a list of common complaints that helpers usually have.
Sara (not her real name) hired a Cambodian helper once, but eventually switched her for someone else because the helper liked to collect trash in the closet. She even kept rice in the bookshelf! Her second helper was also a Cambodian, but good at speaking Malay. However, when Sara was away at work, the helper didn’t do work at all. Sara didn’t trust her helper and sent her children to the babysitter. Even when Sara was at the hospital due to pregnancy, the helper didn’t do any work at all–she didn’t even wash the baby’s new clothes. Sara now prefers hiring a part-time cleaner for her house.
Doris (not her real name) tells us that a helper she hired seemed to have a good personality and spoke very well. When she first came into the house, she didn’t do anything at all. On a weekend, Doris told her she would teach the helper how to hand wash the clothes, and suddenly the helper lost her temper, throwing the clothes on the ground and screaming, “I’ve been doing so many things and you’re still not satisfied!” She told the helper she would send her back to the agency, but then she started grabbing on to Doris’ hair and pulling it. The ordeal resulted in Doris having back pain and scratches on her legs and arms.
Munira (not her real name) has had a helper since even before she gave birth to her first child. So far, she has had six of them, and plans to hire another one once her current helper is done with her contract. She has been happy with them and considers herself lucky. While she admits that her current helper isn't so good at organising, she is an excellent cook and good at taking care of her daughter.
But what about the helpers themselves?
After asking around, Rojak Daily found out the different problems domestic helpers face. A complaint was made by a helper who spent most of her time alone in a big house without doing anything much. Another helper has also said that there are occasions when her employers would invite their extended relatives to stay over far too many times, adding extra workload on top of her regular tasks. Then, there was also a helper who quit her job because the male employer had tried to flirt with her, even though she already has a husband back home.
According to a representative we talked to from Women's Aid Organisation (a NGO that strives to raise awareness and empower domestic helpers based in Malaysia), they received approximately 35 calls per week in 2015 (a total of 1,834 for the year) through their telephone and SMS hotline. 62% of the calls were for domestic violence.
The most common complaints that the organisation got from helpers are from those who:
• Had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse
• Had their wages or passports withheld
• Were told to do work outside of their job scope
• Were prevented from leaving the home of their employer
When asked about the kidnapping of the 12-year-old, the NGO representative responded that it is an isolated incident. “The vast majority of domestic helpers are hardworking, law-abiding, and just trying to make a living like everyone else. One bad apple is not a representative of a broader trend.”
How Do We Overcome This?
Women’s Aid Organisation encourages employers to treat domestic helpers with respect and dignity. They advise employers to give them the same right to equality under the law, including getting the basic rights of getting a weekly day off, regular hours of work, and be provided with decent working conditions.
“Taking steps to ensure that both parties have the same expectations, and adhere to these expectations will build trust and help guarantee a safe and conducive environment,” the NGO’s representative tells us. “We as a society must also ensure that domestic helpers are systematically informed of their rights, including access to legal recourse and viable complaint mechanisms, without fear of losing their jobs.”
As someone who has had many years of hiring domestic helpers for her family, Nurul (not her real name) tells us that it’s best to treat them as your own family. “Saya tak berkira
. If she needs essentials such as medicine, toothpaste and body shower, I’d buy those for her without deducting from her wage,” she says. “It becomes a problem if you put too much of a distance between you and your helper.”
Munira tells mothers who need someone to take care of their children while they’re away at work to get to know what the helper is like. “Their behaviour and mindset actually influences the child, as they would spend most of the time with each other because the parents would be working,” she explains.
cannot ensure that these methods are 100% effective. It’s important to understand, though, that every individual’s reactions may be different. But perhaps, just maybe, the first step a helper and her employer can take is to acknowledge that they’re both humans.