In my job I meet 20 - 30 helpers each week and hear frequent tales of abuse and illegal practices.
There are fours main areas which are causing concern for human rights organisatiions inside and outside the country. Firstly - indebtedness. Many helpers are made to pay extortionate fees in their home country just to get here, and then some agents overcharge them here, so they are left with a large debt to pay off out of their salary. Some agents have beed disciplined or closed down for this, but it still goes on because it is difficult to complain and they jeopardise their jobs.
Secondly, when they finish their employment for whatever reason, they have to leave the country within 14 days. This gives them no time to find a new employer and means they have to go home with no income for many weeks while they wait for their ne contract.
Thirdly, since 2003 by law they have to live in with their employer. This gives rise to overwork and abuse. Many employers would prefer their helpers to live out, but this is not allowed. Judges have criticised this and have said that much of the abuse occurs because of this rule.
Their employment is not secure - Employer can finish contract for any virtually reason. The maid cannot fight as she is not allowed to stay here. If she is granted leave to stay, she has no income and may be black listed by a future employer.
These girls (and sometimes boys) work long hours, have no privacy, and often sleep in floor with kids. Sometimes the emplyer will take their passport (which is illegal). Sometimes they have no day off - or short day off. They have to make breakfast, walk dog, clean car etc. before they can leave. By law their break should be 24 hours , but they often have a curfew of 7pm or 8pm.
Succesful prosecutions of abusive employers are rare. Because of the live-in rule they often cannot provide any evidence and they are not believed. Also, they will certainly lose their job, with dire consequences for themselves and their family. However, some injustices are successfully prosecuted.
One such successful case was that of the Indonesian helper Erwiana. Her employer, Law Wan Tung hit her frequently and fractured her teeth, she had no day off and was made to sleep on the floor. She then become ill with infected wounds.
Instead of seeking medical help for her the employer give her $70 and a ticket to Indonesia, threatening her never to tell anyone about her treatment.
She collapsed at Jakarta Airport and was taken to hospital.
In another case, Mary, also an Indonesian forgot to put butter on table. Her employer beat her and dragged her across the floor by her hair. She took videos of wounds and bruises to Police who then took action.
Also, Rutchel, a Philippina made the mistake of rinsing the floor mop in the sink. Her employer beat her, made her drink dirty mop water and threw away her food - she ran outside and found a Policeman.
There are hundreds of similar cases which go unreported and unpunished. We must keep up the pressure on our politicians and institutions to treat our guest workers with the dignity they deserve.
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