Fair play for home workers

IN one fell swoop, the government’s move to allow social security coverage under the Employees Social Security Act 1969 (Act 4) and Employment Insurance System Act 2017 (Act 800) to be extended to domestic workers (expected to be implemented on June 1) will bring the rights of employees in this feminised sector closer to being on par with all other workers in Malaysia.

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS) welcomes the government’s move to provide employment protection for domestic workers, both locals and migrants, who have never had a safety net to fall back on if they were to get hurt or injured while doing their work.

When domestic workers, whose wages can fall below minimum standards due to lack of contractual agreements, are injured or disabled while at work, they will lose their income entirely. Many will desperately return to work before they are fully healed just to be able to put food on their table.

After March 2020, as Malaysia went into lockdown and during the other intermittent conditional movement control order periods, the work of full-time live-in domestic workers went into overdrive. Many experienced abuse and violence that were never reported or recorded, even as mistresses of households were lodging reports of domestic violence, which was later categorised as the shadow pandemic plaguing women the world over. The abuses which domestic workers suffered were largely because they do not enjoy weekly days off or even regulated daily hours of work.

Local and migrant domestic workers in Malaysia do not enjoy the same rights as all other workers in the country specifically because the Employment Act 1955 (EA 1955) explicitly discriminates against them, leaving them open to abuse.

Last month, PSWS launched a campaign titled #KakakJugaPekerja that called on the government of the day to remove all the exemptions to domestic workers listed in the First Schedule of the EA 1955 with immediacy in order to bring Malaysia on par with international labour standards.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan, in announcing the progressive decision by the government to extend social security to this sector of workers, estimated that a total of 104,400 local and migrant domestic workers, including others who are listed as domestic servants in the EA 1955 (like drivers and gardeners), would enjoy the new benefit of a safety net.

However, this figure does not include informal workers like part-time or undocumented migrant domestic workers. It is because undocumented domestic workers are more vulnerable to abuse that the government must take its cue from a recent High Court ruling that the Labour Court must hear an undocumented worker’s case to claim over RM30,000 in unpaid wages. In this case, the judge also pointed out that the immigration status of a worker should not deter the Labour Department from providing the said worker protection from abuse.

This reformist push must also be implemented as law with the relevant Acts being amended to ensure that these rights are not revoked. As regulations do not have to be tabled in Parliament, they can easily be amended or removed by the Minister.

The Human Resources Ministry must also actively ensure the widespread implementation of this new regulation and work closely with NGOs working with the labour forces, especially those in this sector.

The ministry must also publicise this new decision via, for example, SMS blasts, so that employers as well as workers are aware of this new entitlement.


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