FOR some employers, treating their maids well still doesn’t grant them peace of mind.
S. Vithya has always looked out for her maids. Apart from the essentials, Vithya would even get her maid souvenirs when she went on holidays.
The 32-year-old manager first decided to hire help after giving birth to her eldest daughter 3 years ago.
Her maid was constantly driving Vithya up the wall with her lackadaisical work attitude and lack of personal hygiene.
“I once found my daughter’s pyjamas — unwashed and with stains of faeces — stuffed inside the dressing table drawer. Which mum will not get frustrated? I warned her not to do it again.
“Two days before the delivery of my second child, my husband and I came home to find out that she had run away. After some weeks, we managed to get a new maid but we were in for another round of mental torture.
“I was undergoing post-partum depression then and it became worse when I learned that my maid had stolen my mother’s mobile phone, faked her own mother’s death just so she could go home for a break and that she was hurting my daughter by pinching her while playing with her.
“We threatened to make a police report and send her back home without any money. That did the trick as she became more responsible.
“Honestly, I wish I could spare myself the inconvenience, but as a working mother of two, I need help.
“My husband works late shifts while my parents and in-laws are not in the best of health, or are preoccupied, so I have to look into their needs as well.”
For Vithya, it was her maids’ attitude that caused all the inconvenience. However, in the case of Azizah Dahlan, she had problems with the agency and the maids it supplied.
“My Filipino maid cost me RM12,000. I don’t know why the fee is so high. This was excluding the monthly salary of RM1,200 I paid her.
“After 6 months, she ran away, leaving me a note. My second maid was no less expensive. Within 3 months, she had ransacked my luggage for her passport when we were in Sabah and fled. I don’t know what else went missing.
“The agency — posing as a registered one — did not do much to compensate me. After a few rounds of follow-up, I could not get through to it any more, and later found that it had closed down.
“I am desperately looking for a maid now because my house is quite big and I am not able to do all the household chores and gardening on my own,” says Azizah.
“Maids definitely are a big help when they discharge their duties properly, but they are also an encumbrance because they are an added responsibility.
“We have to constantly ensure their well-being and keep them in mind when we plan for things,” adds Azizah.
Apart from employers, the authorities, too, feel the pressure of handling domestic workers and households that hire them.
“The nature of work for domestic helpers is different. We can’t set a time limit for work. Also, most domestic helpers live with their employers. So lodging, food, clothes, toiletries and all other essentials are taken care of. They get to keep their full salary at the end of the month,” says Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (Papa) president Jeffrey Foo.
Papa facilitates the recruitment process of foreign workers, including maids, in the country.
“Our demand currently exceeds supply. The number of maids recruited from the Philippines has increased since Cambodia and Indonesia stopped their domestic workers from coming to Malaysia.
“Three years ago, we had roughly 350,000 domestic helpers, but now we only have over 200,000. The turnover rate for foreign maids stands at 50,000 a year,” adds Foo.
Malaysia lacks trained domestic helpers and both the Cambodian and Indonesian governments are unhappy with the standard of labour supplied.
The lack of legal and human rights education has also led to exploitation and abuse of workers.
Even worse, for every legitimate agency, there are 2 or 3 illegal ones operating. There are also syndicates that convert illegal immigrants into domestic workers.
“Since most domestic helpers are not educated, many suffer in silence when they are exploited.
“Both the supplying and receiving governments need to introduce stringent guidelines to safeguard the interests of both the employers and domestic workers,” says Foo.
If Malaysia and the governments which supply maids do not find ways to educate domestic workers on their rights, introduce a proper monitoring system to enhance employer-employee relations and weed out illegal agencies, they may well be encouraging modern day slavery in this context.