FEBRUARY 12 — The tragic death of 21-year old Indonesian domestic helper, Adelina, infuriated our nation.
We received tip-off from neighbours on Saturday (10/02/18) about a domestic helper being abused and visited the employers’ home to investigate the very same day.
After failing to secure a cooperation from the employers and fearing for the safety of Adelina, one of my staff lodged a police report.
The police acting quickly, managed to remand two of the employers and send Adelina to the hospital. The next day, however, Adelina passed away in the hospital.
It was a senseless lost of life.
Yet we all know very clearly that Adelina’s was not the first case.
Just last February, another Indonesian maid, Jubaedah, 38, died after allegedly being abused by her employer. In 2015, a couple was sentenced to death by the Court of Appeal for the murder of their Cambodian helper, 24-year old Mey Sichan. The case was later commuted to manslaughter and the couple sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Mey was starved to death.
Lack of protection makes migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation
These tragic cases are the extremes, but they demonstrated the total lack of protection for migrant workers in our country. While deaths are perhaps rare, migrant workers including domestic workers are constantly facing all sorts of abuses.
In 2015, the Nepali government reported that there were 461 deaths of Nepali workers in Malaysia. This makes a horrifying average of nine deaths weekly; there were more Nepali workers death in Malaysia than days in a week!
An International Labour Organisation (ILO) report showed that the Nepali deaths were due to “poor working conditions, high level of occupational stress and lack of adequate medical care.”
The 2017 US Department of State Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report warned that, in Malaysia, “migrants workers on palm oil and agricultural plantations, at construction sites, in the electronic industry, and in homes as domestic workers are subjected to practices that can indicate forced labor, such as passport retention… and contract violations, restricted movement, wage fraud, and imposition of significant debts by recruitment agents and employers.” (Source: https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2017/271235.htm)
Exploitation of migrant workers corrupts our society
True to the pattern reported in the TIP Report, when we found Adelina, we were told that her passport was confiscated away from her. The act of retaining another person’s passport itself is already illegal.
Clearly in Adelina’s case, she was totally deprived of basic human rights. Not only her whole body was battered, she was not given adequate medical treatment until it was too late, another gross violation of the law.
We need better laws and protection for migrant workers in this country. There are about 2 million legal migrant workers and possibly another 2-4 million illegal migrant workers already here.
The exploitation of migrant workers is both a human right issue as well as a socio-economic problem.
Firstly, one can only imagine the social upheaval if 2-6 million people are being bullied and oppressed on a regular basis. In 2014, about 1000 migrant workers rioted in a factory in Johor because of resentment over bullying by their employer (Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/malaysia-workers/malaysia-police-arrest-42-foreigners-after-riot-at-export-factory-idUSL3N0QX2M520140827)
Secondly, when migrant workers can easily be exploited, the local job market will be affected as well. If employers can easily hire migrant workers with no-to-low labour protection, thus saving them various costs, migrant workers will always be the preferred choice when it comes to hiring. This scenario creates a situation of competition to the bottom in our local job market, with Malaysians having to either lower our own demands or risk unemployment especially for those at the bottom of the employment ladder. Ultimately, this competition to the bottom will affect everyone.
Finally, and most importantly, human rights must be protected for everyone.
One of the last things Adelina said was, she still has her parents in Indonesia and she is here to earn money to help her family. We must realise that migrant workers are fellow human beings with the same dignity and the same rights as us.
Even if we are not altruistic and do not care for foreigners, allowing gross human rights violations to go uncheck will eventually corrupt the system of protection not only for migrants but also for Malaysians.
If someone can be subjected to workplace bullying, violence and even be tortured to death here in Malaysia, what makes us think that the next person will not be a Malaysian?
Exploitation of migrant workers is a time bomb we need to diffuse immediately.
May Adelina rest in peace, and may justice be served.
But more importantly, may this be the last tragedy due to workers exploitation in our country.
* Steven Sim Chee Keong is Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam and DAP Parliamentary Committee for Human Resources deputy spokesperson
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.