Developing domestic workers’ knowledge and skills

By Ahmad Faizuddin

Domestic work has become a big issue followed by many cases of abuses by employers. What if we start learning to live without maids and begin to do household chores by ourselves? I guess the path seems a bit too far to reach since most of us are busy working outside the house. There is no standard definition of what a domestic worker is. It includes working in a private home servicing the household.

Traditionally, a wife and mother performs domestic work without payment. In some parts of Asia, domestic work is associated with the lower class or caste in society. In a conference on Gender Equality and the Heart of Decent Work, International Labour Organisation (ILO, 2009) it was stated: “Since domestic work is often regarded as an extension of women’s traditional unpaid household and family responsibilities, it is still mostly invisible, undervalued and unprotected.”

In the traditional model of work, ideally, male should be the breadwinner for his dependants – wife and children, which may include domestic workers – while women’s work is seen as supplementary. However, women and young girls are driven into domestic work by poverty.

Women dominate the industry of domestic work in Asia. According to National Domestic Workers Movement (2010), 90% of domestic workers are female. Workers from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh are the most commonly employed in the Asian countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan.

The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APFWLD, 2010) stated that domestic work is amongst the lowest paid, least valued and least organised work in the region. On the other hand, domestic workers face numerous incidents of harassment, physical torture, and sexual abuse by household employers. The workers are vulnerable and often seen as slaves rather than as employees. Even in Malaysian and Sri Lankan legislation, such as The Employment Act and The Wages Boards Ordinance, the common terms used for domestic workers are “servant”, “helper”, “maid” or “aunty”.

In some cases, the employers control the domestic workers by holding their immigration documents and passports, restricting from calling their family back home, sending letters, and leaving the house to visit their friends or relatives. They are on call 24/7 and may not have a private bedroom.

One of the biggest issues is that many domestic workers are children under the age of 18 (APFWLD, 2010). According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse in the household.

The number of Indonesian workers in Malaysia reaches 2.3 million people, including the illegal ones. Unfortunately, most of them are not equipped with sufficient soft-skills. Compared to migrant workers from the Philippines who can speak fluent English, Indonesian workers need to learn more. Based on their skills, workers from the Philippines can get about RM1000 per month, while workers from Indonesia only receive RM700. This is one of the reasons that determine their low market value compared to other workers. Some might not even know what a rice cooker or a fridge is.

With the new policy, they are given a proper training prior to starting their jobs. The government has initiated to provide education to domestic workers by establishing community learning centres. It is very important since education is a basic right for all. We do hope that they will be more competent and professional in the future.

Indonesian community in Malaysia has initiated a programme known as Edukasi Untuk Bangsa (EUB) at Sekolah Indonesia Kuala Lumpur. The programme is aimed at developing domestic workers’ knowledge and skills. This weekly programme focuses on mastering English language and computer science. Normally, the trainings are conducted in four months for 16 meetings.

EUB was started in July 2011. Using one Indonesian restaurant in Pasar Seni, Kuala Lumpur, the trainings were held every Sunday. Volunteers from expatriates and students dedicate their times to teaching the workers English competency and computer skills, such as Microsoft Office, and photo and video editing. With high demands from the participants, other trainings are also offered, like entrepreneurship, handy craft, motivation, and finance management. At the present time, the trainings are held in Sekolah Indonesia Kuala Lumpur (SIKL), Kuala Lumpur.

What motivate them to join this programme despite their tight working schedule? A friend of mine who volunteers to teach in EUB conducted a small research to find out the answer. Some responded that they wanted to improve their English communication skills. For that reason, they eagerly learn speaking, listening, and writing in English every weekend. Some other maids answered that they wanted to communicate with their families back home through the Internet. And the most interesting one is to be able to teach English when they go home.

I believe such programme will have a great impact on their success in the future. They should be equipped with knowledge and practical skills so they can know their rights and work professionally. Hopefully, upon returning home, they can apply the knowledge and skills accordingly within their own community.

At the end of the day, domestic sciences should be put into our school curriculum. Skills, like cooking, cleaning, baby caring, etc. can be part of curriculum for students at schools. It is not only the responsibilities of domestic workers; it is the skills that we should master at home. If the domestic workers are given one day off in a week so they have time to learn new skills, why not we spend time to start learning domestic skills for our own sake?

A Ph.D. candidate, Educational Management and Leadership, Kulliyyah of Education, International Islamic University Malaysia | Email:| Mobile Phone: +60178813515

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