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  • Moganasundari Mahalingam

Event: Organizing Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers - Consultation Meeting dated 13 Jan 2019, KL

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

I usually spend my Sundays at my aunt’s place, eating home cooked meals and / or baking something I usually end up never eating. However, the Sunday of 13th January, was a little different than my usual routine.


Our Journey was invited to participate in IDWF’s Consultation Meeting with regards to how and why organizing is a key component to advocating for Domestic Workers’ rights.


It was a half a day programme with 4 parts to be covered (including the introductory). I am going to skip the introduction because I am horrible at names let alone at spelling them, and move on straight to the discussion.


Please remember a lot of the details discussed are private and confidential, so what I share with you here, in this public space is merely a general view of the said discussions whilst maintaining the Chatam House Rules.


Panel 1: A study on the status of migrant Indonesian Domestic Workers in Malaysia


The speaker elaborated 4 key components that influenced the status of the Domestic Workers here in Malaysia, and they are, the social & political landscape, CSOs and Trade Union involvement, Challenges & Opportunities, and the way forward.


In 2017, a staggering number of 123,410 Indonesian Domestic Workers (DW) were recorded in Malaysia. This number included DW that lived in with the families and those that didn’t and were usually on a ‘on call basis’.


While there are many plaguing issues around DW, some of the notable vulnerabilities they face are isolation, the illegality to organise, and lack of social protection. For those of you who don’t know, DW aren’t protected under the Employment Act 1955 and this in itself results in the many vulnerabilities they face.


Politically DW aren’t sufficiently protected either. With the recent change of regime here in Malaysia and no news on a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed, the DW presently here exist in a vicious vacuum of abusive work relationships and the lack of any form of protection.


So are there no recourse? Well, this is where civil society organisations and trade unions come in. They advocate for better rights for vulnerable groups, which in this case are the DW, act as public service monitors; and in some instances where funds are available, they also provide capacity building training, and organising facilities for the DW.


However even to carry these activities out, the DW are limited either by the lack of rest days to meet and organise or in many cases the fear that enforcement agencies will come after them.


Panel 2: Experts Sharing


About an hour was allocated for 3 women who are experts in the area to speak. Two of which whom were domestic workers themselves turned activists and an activist from a local organisation who has been dealing with the issue for many years.


Whilst the larger crux of the sharing session dived into personal experience, the one main theme that stood out amongst the 3 women was that, beyond the lack of legal or social protection, it is the community, i.e. the employers and their families that builds this narrative that DW are modern slaves.


DW aren’t looked as members of the family or even as assistive units to the family but rather a pseudo legalised slave that is not entitled to basic rights, needs or even acknowledgement.


Panel 3: Ways Forward


In this final session, the participants were divided into two groups. One of previous, current domestic workers-turned activists and another of Malaysian civil society organisations. The two groups were then asked to discuss what are the possible ways forward for IDWF to advance the rights of DWs.


What would be your inputs on the way forward? Let me know in the comment section below.


Dated this 18 Feb 2019

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