Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are some Malaysian employers mongrels?

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time
You said you was high classed, that was just a lie
You ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't a friend of mine

- originally by Elvis Presley, now by Anwar Ibrahim to Khairy Jamaluddin

Hardly surprising that malaysiakini didn’t report this one, what with all the hi-profile news about (1) Anwar Ibrahim wanting to sue Khairy Jamaluddin for calling the former an agent of the Jews and (2) Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin stunning the Malaysian blogosphere by cooing a sweet ‘forgive and forget’ regarding Negarakuku rapper Wee Meng Chong – Zam said that Malaysians (meaning UMNO) should be magnanimous in accepting Wee’s apology about his MTV-style online video which mocked the national anthem – Uncle Zam said Wee’s faux pas was due to the latter’s ignorance

No, it was an
al Jazeera report yesterday that again reminded us how bloody cruel some of us Malaysians have become.

Another Indonesian maid, Parsiti, alleged that her employer started kicking and beating her with a cane in May, just one month after she came to Malaysia. Parsiti revealed that her employer had kept her a virtual prisoner, apart from installing a closed-circuit television camera in the house to monitor her.

An Indonesian embassy official confirmed that Parsiti has swollen lips and a bruise on her left thigh.

Parsiti was so traumatised by the alleged physical abuses that she made a desperate escape from her employer’s residence. She climbed through the window of the 22nd storey condominium in Kuala Lumpur but had to be rescued by from the high ledge outside the 17th floor when she was stuck there. It was fortuitous a neighbour had spotted her climbing down from her employer’s apartment and alerted a security guard.

She is the second case of such a dramatic desperate and dangerous escape from an alleged abusive employer. A couple of months back, another Indonesian maid, Ceriyati Dapin, made the same form of escape by climbing out of the window of her employer's 15th floor apartment with a rope made of towels, sheets and clothes. You would have thought such escape aids were only in movies.

Irene Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, a migrant workers rights group based in Malaysia, said such incidents were ‘happening too often’. She accused the Malaysian and Indonesian governments of being indifferent to the plight of Indonesian maids who were getting a raw deal compared with Filipino domestic helpers.

But let’s leave aside the apathetic governments - ho hum, what's new.

Instead we need to ask ourselves: what sort of abuses would have driven these maids, working in a strange land, to such desperate measures to escape their employers? What sort of people are we Malaysians to treat our servants so cruelly as if we are some medieval feudal lords with sway of death or life over our 'slaves'?

If the above allegations are indeed true, I as a Malaysian feel terribly ashamed that we are a bunch of, no not hound dogs, but plain mongrels - pariah dogs to ill-treat a worker in such a draconian way because she so happened to be a foreigner.


  1. Malaysians are xenophobes.

    We'd like someone else to do the dirty jobs (in these case cheap labour), but at the same time, Malaysians look down on them too.

    And when Malaysians look down on foreigners, it makes it 'easier' to abuse them when they do not do their job properly. It's also a power trip - lord and mistress over someone who cleans up after them. Some home owners go wacko on that sense of power and takes it out on the maid.

    To be fair, not all maids come to Malaysia to work. Some are not prepared to work as maids, some not used to the culture, thus misunderstandings occur. Some slink away as soon as they arrive to find other means of employment.

    The checks and balances to make sure both employer and employee are happy are not enforced quite often enough.
    Indeed, are the maids informed of their legal rights when working in Malaysia, I wonder? Or who to contact when they need help?

  2. Upbringing might be involved in this as well. While I have had some friends who took care of their maids, there have been others who looked at them as though they were worse than second-class, as if they were worse than animals and that they deserved to be treated so.

    "I pay her what, give her a place to stay and food to eat, what more she want ah?" is one of the many arguments that they make.

    And although they don't see it, thats precisely how our government acts towards its people. We have all manner of basic needs, but we are abused regularly, as well as denied certain human needs.

    While it is a two-way issue, that maids need to be trained properly and so forth, a good bit of it relies on the employer as well. Maids aren't automaton babysitters that can do everything at the drop of the hat, as well as take all sorts of punishment from their bosses, verbal or otherwise. Would you stay in the same company if your boss screamed at you all day, and slapped you around the head if that proposal was 5 minutes late?