Hornbill Unleashed

August 12, 2016

Malaysia’s modern-day slavery

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:01 PM

Those of you who worship former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and say he is going to save you from corruption, or from “The Chosen One”, are part of the problem.

Mahathir coined the phrase, “Melayu mudah lupa”. Actually Malaysians easily forget, not just Malays. If we do not learn from our past, we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Do not look at the twin towers, made of gleaming steel, concrete and shining glass, and say, “Mahathir is the father of progress and development”. No! Behind the towering facade, we are a decrepit nation, devoid of a soul. Many of you were excited about being a developed nation, but what good is progress, when you are devoid of compassion, and only see things in terms of ringgits and sen.

The simple analogy of jobs may help illustrate why we lack the maturity for reform. Reform means changing a political party, if it does not appear to be working. Reform also means a change of attitude.

Some of you complain about the influx of migrant workers, whom you claim steal jobs meant for the locals. When Mahathir opened up Malaysia for industrialisation, we needed workers for our factories. Many from the hinterland migrated to the cities for work. For the majority, the lack of a basic education was not a hindrance. It did not matter that the job was repetitive, like attaching the red wire to the blue wires, all day long, because it was money for old rope. Good wages and fixed hours.

Workers were placed in single sex hostels and bussed to work in a “Bas Kilang”.

Malaysia, especially the Malay community, underwent a massive social transformation because men and women were allowed to mingle, at work. This was a departure from the cloistered, conservative environment in the village. The social contact, especially with members of the opposite sex, was a sea change.

In the “olden” days, domestic work was done by local women, but today, most if not all of our domestic help is from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia. Few local women will accept the wages that the foreign maids are paid, nor the working conditions.

Caring for a family, from the elderly granny to the young baby is the norm. Hours are from dawn to late at night. Few have a weekly break or a social life. Many foreign maids do not have annual holidays. Many maids work when they are ill.

If the mistress of the house is caring, and makes you feel like one of the family, then all is fine. If the master of the household makes sexual advances to the maid, help is not easily available. Beatings, punishments and docking of wages for breaking glassware, or a mistake in ironing, have been mentioned by some maids. Which local woman would want to go through such misery?

Career-minded Malaysian women want carers for the children and the house. The cheaper the better, because they do not want to be in a position, like their European counterparts, where most if not all of their wages go to pay for a maid.

Politicians exploit the working woman when their cronies or family members, form agencies, which cater for the maids’ medicals, agency fees, maids’ training and sourcing, in the country of origin.

Of course, there are maids who abuse children and are mentally ill, or have communicable diseases, but whose fault is that? What happened to the expensive vetting process?

In some cases, being a domestic help in Malaysia is like being a modern-day slave. The politicians bleed working mothers and families to death, but the working women pass on their angst to the hapless maids.

Mariam Mokhtar


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