Who safeguards the rights of the maids, who care for us, and our families? This is Siti’s story.

When she first arrived, Siti, who comes from a village which is a four hour journey, from Surabaya in Java, said that she was deloused, even though she said that she did not have any nits in her hair, and was given given coal tar soap to scrub herself clean. She was told to dress conservatively and not to gaze into the eyes of the male members of the family.

Her possessions were laid out on a table and inspected. She has since found that if she had accumulated more possessions, she would have to explain how she acquired them. In other words, had she stolen them from members of the household?

Her “mobil” was taken off her, ostensibly so that she would concentrate on her work. her request to keep in contact with her family from time to time, fell on deaf ears. Siti, a single mother with two young children, had saved some money, from selling produce in the local market, and with the help of her mother, had paid an agency to find work, as a maid, in Malaysia. She refused to go to Saudi Arabia, as one of her relatives who sought work there, had been sexually abused by the employer, and no action had been taken.

Within minutes of arriving at her employer’s house, her passport was confiscated, and she was told her employers would keep the passport in his safe. At the time, she was not aware that it was an offence to take the passport of another person. She has since found out that the employer took the passport as a form of “insurance”, so she would not run away.

She was made to wake at the crack of dawn and she could only sleep, when all her duties were done. She was told she had to wash the car, inside and out, and do the gardening. Sometimes she would be sent, for several days, to clean, cook and care for the families of her employer’s grown-up children. She later found that this contravened the terms of the contract, which the agency had given her.

Thankful

As if to make her feel better, her employer said she ought to be thankful that her duties did not include having to bathe a dog, nor handle pork.

She was warned that her wages would be docked. if she were to break any crockery. Furthermore, if anything were to go missing, she would not be paid.

She was not sure how to adjust the temperature of the iron, for synthetic fabrics, and burnt a dress, which she was ironing. She was slapped across her face and called names which would make the owner of a brothel blush.

When she happened to chat to the neighbour’s maids, across the fence, she was told-off for neglecting her chores.

When the teenage sons of her employer went out clubbing, they refused to take a key, and she would be rudely awakened in the early hours of the morning, to open the doors to allow them in. When her employer’s grandchildren scribbled on the walls with crayon, she would spend hours scrubbing off the markings, and would sometimes have to stay up, way past midnight.

When food and drink went missing from the fridge or larder, she was blamed. She dared not tell the mistress of the house, that her teenage children often brought friends to the house, and would demand that she cook for them, at any time of day or night.

If she did not know how to operate the latest electrical gadget for cleaning the house, she was verbally abused, for being stupid. It did not occur to her employer, that the iron and other electrical gadgets, like the vacuum cleaner, and microwave oven, were not found in their village.

She burnt the rice, because she did not know how to adjust the heat of an electric hob. Most of the gadgets in the house, were new to her, and at times, she was unable to remember the instructions.  She could only stand in humiliation, when the contents of the pot were thrown at her feet.

When she did not know how to de-vein prawns, her employer verbally abused her freely, and called her an idiot. She wondered if her employer knew that most people in her mountain village had not seen or tasted shellfish or crustacea before. The sea was several hours away and the only time she had seen it, was when she crossed from Medan to arrive at Malacca, where she was picked up by the Malaysian maid agency.

She found that her letters had been opened and scrutinised, before she read them. In one, she read that her favourite aunt had died and was shocked to learn that her family had phoned to tell her this, but she had not received the message. They had wondered about her silence.

Denied basic human rights

The above is a compilation of stories from Indonesian maids whom I have interviewed. Some still work in conditions neither you or I would accept. Some return home, in a box.

On 18 February 2018, Aegile Fernandez, a director at Tenaganita, lamented the lack of outrage, by Malaysians, at the death of the Indonesian domestic worker, Adelina Lisao.

The answer is simple.

Many Malaysians do not care. The majority are self-serving and we are afflicted by the “me” culture. The lax punishment will not deter employers from mentally, physically and sexually abusing their maids. Enforcement is poor.

Employers act as if they “own” the maids.

Our society suffers from apathy and the “don’t care” attitude is present in the individual, right up to the crony who runs the agency and the heads of enforcement, in the various government departments.

Would Malaysians work for a pittance, in the conditions I describe above? Would you?

Some of the households spend more on a family birthday bash, in an upmarket restaurant, than their maid’s monthly wage.

We will only learn, once Indonesia stops the supply of maids, and our society starts to care and have some compassion for other human beings.

Rebuilding Malaysia
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