Indonesian Maid Beaten To Death By Malaysian Employers

via Yahoo! News:

Hani was rescued from her employers’ home a week ago. She was found by another Indonesian cleaner hired to replace her who noticed a foul smell coming from a locked bathroom.

Police said that when she was found she was tied up around her arms and legs, and was bruised all over her body. Among her injuries were a serious wound to the right leg that exposed the bone.

Local papers reported Hani had been abused by her employers almost daily during the two months she worked at their home.

One of Asia’s largest importers of labour, Malaysia depends heavily on domestic workers, mainly from Indonesia, but has been criticised for not passing legislation to govern their rights and conditions.

In May, the government announced plans for new laws to protect domestic workers from sexual harassment, non-payment of wages and poor working conditions.

Indonesian maids typically work seven days a week for as little as 400 ringgit (113 dollars) a month.

I hadn’t had much exposure to the practice of having hired help in the home until moving to Singapore. It’s apparently a very common practice in Asia, which surprised me.  In the United States it would be nearly impossible for the average person to afford hired help, but in Asia even middle-income families can generally afford a maid.  The reason for that is that the wages paid to these domestic helpers is very small in comparison to ‘normal’ wages made in the country where they work.

From what I’ve seen in the admittedly short time I’ve been in Asia, people rely on their domestic helpers to care for their homes and even their children in some cases.  They work long hours, often 7 days per week depending on the employer.  So, why is it that there’s no legislation to protect them?  Why is it that they’re paid a wage that’s so small local children would reject it from a part-time job?

These women leave their homes in search of a better life and are often used as the butt of a joke, or abused, sometimes sexually.  Then there is the rare occasion where a domestic helper is beaten to death, or commits suicide.  It’s disgusting.

Sometimes it’s not possible for these women to pick up and leave and go back home.  How could they if they’re paid so little they can’t afford the ticket?  Or if their wages are being withheld?  Or if they’re locked in the house and not allowed out?

The Abuse of Non-Resident Workers in Singapore

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently you’ll have read that Singapore can be a pretty rough place for a foreigner.  There’s plenty of racism and discrimination from locals.  Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is also common in the work place.

In Singapore business, appearance is everything.  Companies want to present the best image they can, regardless of the internal cost and that’s usually going to be at someone’s expense, because they want a certain level of service to be rendered but at the same time they don’t want to put forward the capital or manpower required to adequately meet their goals.  Someone winds up suffering, and those someones are typically foreign workers.

You see, being in Singapore on a work permit is a rather unique situation.  People usually apply for jobs in Singapore through recruitment agencies in their home countries.  If they’re approved they receive a card that designates them as being about to legally enter Singapore without needing their passport stamped and remain for the duration of their work contract.  Now, people that do this sort of thing are either looking to improve their lives, or they have financial obligations at home, like a family to support.  Either way, they have to maintain their job.  If a person loses their job they’re only given so many days to find a new one before they have to leave Singapore, and sometimes that time-frame is only 2 weeks.  You see what I’m saying?  There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you stay in your employer’s good graces, because you’re almost guaranteed to have to leave the country if you leave your job.  Moving from one country to another can be a big deal.  It can be even more stressful when your income is cut off and you have obligations to meet.

In other words, there’s really no wriggle-room.  You work, or you get put out and you have to leave the country.

Being the pricks they are, people like to take advantage of that here.  They create unrealistic expectations in their KPIs.  They ask employees to stay longer hours, often unpaid, to do more work, even if that employee has exceeded the target set for the day.  This is done so that the company can get around hiring more people to manage the workload more effectively, but is an abuse to the worker.  In the case of maids, I’m sure there are far worse abuses that happen despite the strict rules regulating maids in Singapore.

Regardless, there’s no much of a recourse for these foreign workers.  If they decline the request to work the longer hours too many times, they’ll simply be let go and they’ll have to pack up the life they’ve made in Singapore and return to their country, often with not much to show for their efforts and no immediate prospects for work.  If they file a complaint with the company?  Same result.  File a complaint with MoM?  Well, something might happen in the future but the company would find a reason to fire that person.    Change their job?  Well, it’s not always that easy.  Most foreigners come to Singapore on a contract, so they can’t change jobs.  If they can, it could be hard to find one, and if they do, and there’s even the slightest delay in the paperwork, they could have to pack up and leave the country and then come back once the new contract is approved.

You see what I’m getting at here?  The labor laws in Singapore regarding foreigners are either not strict enough or they’re not being properly enforced to protect the interests of the foreign workers that are being hired.  These people are employees, not slightly paid slave labor.

(Image Source)

What Determines A Person’s Worth?

I was thinking about this question because of something that happened earlier today. I woke up briefly in the morning and I thought I heard the maid crying. I’m sick, though, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. Later, I found out that there had been a problem.

She had recently bought a laptop computer. It was her first so I had to give her a few pointers, and she seemed really excited by things like Yahoo! Messenger and Facebook. This morning, she was on Facebook chatting with someone she had met. Apparently the guy was really into her. Then she told him what she does as a profession.

In her own words, “…then he ridiculed me and rejected me like a dog.”

Is it really that serious? A woman brought to tears and rejected out of hand just because of what she does for a living? She’s a maid, not a prostitute.

Let me quote something I wrote just recently:

As another example, maids in Singapore are typically foreign laborers and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “You look like my Filipina maid”, with a voice full of derision and disrespect. While being a maid is by no means a glorious job, these women accepted an opportunity to better themselves by earning more money in a foreign country, far from their homes. To me, that shows a desire to progress and improve and is far from being a fault. Also, I’m not really clear what makes these people think that maids are inherently ugly, except that perhaps they associate profession with looks, class, and appeal. Or perhaps the average Singaporean equates attractiveness with the amount of a persons’ paycheck? I’d also like to highlight that this common saying emphasizes many Singaporeans’ real belief that they are better than foreign laborers, just because of where they’re from.

I really can’t express enough how disgusting and ridiculous this superior mentality is. A person’s value is not based on what job position they hold, or how many years they went to school. If you get along with someone, why shut them down just because of what job they hold? Our maid is one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met. Ethnicity and education have nothing to do with that.

This is Singapore, not Nazi Germany. This country was built up by a collective of peoples from all over Asia and is today a fairly multicultural center. There are people from all over the world living in Singapore. So why is it there are still these ridiculous ideas that some people should be shunned based on where they’re from? A lot of Westerners would shun Singaporeans because they’re from Asia, and dismiss educational certificates because they’re from a second-rate country. Wouldn’t feel nice to be on the receiving end would it?

Also, just being born in an somewhat affluent country doesn’t mean you’re better than someone from a poorer country. It just doesn’t work that way. A difference in the value of a nation’s currency doesn’t indicate a difference in the value of the people. Singapore is just lucky. That’s all. The country is in a good location to make money from shipping, and the government instituted imported labor policies that allowed Singapore to become a wealthy nation. Imported labor. Ya, those same people that are being mocked and ridiculed are the people that made Singapore what it is.

I hadn’t planned on revisiting this topic, but after this fiasco with our maid, I had to speak up again.

The whole “We’re better than you because you’re not one of us” thing didn’t work for Nazi Germany. It didn’t work for Japan. It’s not going to work for Singapore either.