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Migrant workers being exploited in Malaysia – UN

5 July 20230 comments

Almost a third of migrant domestic workers employed in Malaysian households are working under forced labour conditions, according to a new report by the UN’s labour agency.

The report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found conditions such as excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, low wages, restricted movement, and being unable to quit among other indicators of forced labour.

The survey, based on interviews with 1,201 domestic workers in Southeast Asia, found 29 per cent of those in Malaysia faced such conditions, compared to 7 per cent and 4 per cent in its neighbours Singapore and Thailand, respectively.

In all three countries, the domestic workers surveyed on average worked hours “well in excess” of those legislated for other workers, and none earned the minimum wage, the ILO said.

“Domestic work is one of the most important tasks in our society, and yet provided with the least protection. This can no longer be accepted,” said ILO spokesperson Anna Engblom.

The ILO has urged Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand to ratify UN conventions on domestic workers and forced labour, to recognise the skilled nature of domestic work, and ensure migration pathways that did not tie the workers to their employers.

Households in Asia often employ domestic workers – usually women from developing nations such as Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines – to carry out housekeeping tasks including cooking, cleaning, childcare, and gardening, the report said.

Malaysia has faced criticism in recent years following multiple incidents of Indonesian domestic workers being abused in Malaysian households, while several of its companies have been accused of exploiting migrant labourers.

Indonesians make up about 80 per cent of domestic workers in Malaysia, according to the ILO.

Last year, Malaysia and Indonesia signed an agreement to improve protections for domestic workers.

The report says domestic workers play an invaluable role in many societies, providing essential direct and indirect care services to private households.

“As care workers, they work at the foundation of our families, societies and economies,” it says.
However, their contributions have often been undervalued. An ILO report, published in 2021 found that 81 per cent of domestic workers were informally employed, due either to gaps in legal coverage or gaps in implementation.

Yet the growing global need for care services means that the demand for domestic workers is likely to grow.