《外劳权益仍然不受关注》（Migrant protection still not a priority）原文：
A recent news report from Kajang where three Indonesian maids fled their employer, a “Tan Sri”, for allegedly abusing them struck a chord with me.
A couple of years ago I was introduced to Jamilah, an employee of a daily maid service agency, who cleaned our home and attended to my ailing mother.
She would come twice a week to do the usual stuff that a domestic helper would do. We were happy with her work and how she cared for my now late mum and would always request for Jamilah when we called the agency.
But something was off about Jamilah. She was thin and on some days, seemed too weak to even hold a feather duster.
When we offered food, she would eat while glancing at the door. At times she ate like it was the first time she has seen a proper meal in days.
But when we offered her pocket money she would refuse to accept. The same with any food we wanted her to take back to her quarters for her and the other maids whom she lived with – she would politely decline.
When it was time for her to be picked up by her employer, she would rather sit on the kerb in the hot sun waiting for him, than wait inside the house, despite our insistence. She responded that her employer gets agitated when she does not appear right at the moment when he pulls over.
One day when she injured herself while doing her chores, we called her employer who told us in no uncertain terms that we must wait for him and not take her to the clinic ourselves.
The way she was dragged into the car – roughly by the arm – was enough to tell us that something was not right.
When we called the employer to check on her as we felt responsible since she fell in our home, the response was curt.
A few weeks later when she returned to work, we sat her down and demanded to know what was going on at her employer’s house and the circumstances of her employment in Malaysia.
After much encouragement she broke down and told us the entire story: That she is a group of a dozen girls who were brought to Port Klang via ferry by an agent in Medan one year ago. They were told their work permits would be ready for them as they arrived in Port Klang.
Instead upon arrival, they were ushered into a van and taken to a house in Klang where they were told to surrender their passports and cell phones. Those who protested and asked questions were slapped.
The husband-and-wife duo who were to be their “guardians” made them work up to 16 hours a day, cleaning homes, offices and even factories.
By the time they were done for the day, it could be close to midnight, but the exhausted women would have to wake up at 5am for a new day of work.
What about meals? “We eat what we can like bread or biscuits in the van on the way to our jobs.”
There is no day off and on one occasion they were locked in the house for five days as their employers went on a vacation.
“But we didn’t mind, as we could finally sleep and eat nutritious food that we cooked ourselves.”
They were regularly beaten by being too slow or if they had money on them.
They were also warned against escaping as the employer’s father was a “Datuk” who worked with the police.
One girl who escaped with the help of a taxi driver was promptly detained by the police and sent back to Klang where she “received the beating of her life”.
She said the girls who were related to each other such as sisters or cousins were also separated from each other.
I called Datuk Seri Mustafar Ali, who was then the Director General of Immigration for advice.
He promptly sent his investigators to our house to interview Jamaliah, and established she was telling the truth.
Over a course of three months the Immigration Department’s Anti Human Trafficking Unit monitored the two houses and the daily activities of the agency – which it was discovered, was not even a registered business.
Then one day, the Immigration officers swooped down on both houses just after midnight.
The women were rescued and sent to the department’s safe house while the employers were detained and spent three nights in the lockup.
Fast forward, the duo have been fined and ordered to pay restitution to the girls and are now appealing their jail sentences.
Many of the girls have sought to return home, while others like Jamaliah had decided to stay on with sponsors – Malaysians who employ them directly. She is having a good life with caring employers who have made her part of their family and send her home for Hari Raya every year.
Malaysia has one of the highest deaths of migrant workers, with according to Migrant Care, one Nepali worker dies every day.
Maid abuse is especially a disgraceful epidemic here, with over 120 deaths in the last three years. These deaths have prompted a warning form the Indonesian Government for a moratorium on sending Indonesians to work here until the scourge is checked.
There are 250,000 registered domestic helpers or maids in Malaysia. The number of illegal ones is anyone’s guess.
And while steps have been taken to protect employers’ rights against unscrupulous agencies and runaway maids – where now direct employment is possible – one must also not fail to see to it that the welfare of these women are also protected. Remember, they are among the most vulnerable groups as they are at the mercy of the people who employ them and the Government that is supposed to protect them.
Organisations such as the Malaysian Maid Employers’ Association (Mama) for instance should not be one dimensional when it comes to their role in this industry.
Speaking out against maid abuse and ensuring employers observe basic rights of the person is in everyone’s best interests, especially for a country whose economic development is stained by the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers.