Friday, March 11, 2011

PSW: International Women’s Day and women workers rights

Media Statement 

International Women’s Day and women workers rights

Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of IWD wishes to draw the attention of the Malaysian public and the Malaysian government regarding two current issues. Firstly we want to begin by saying that IWD was declared in memory of the women workers in a garment factory who died in a fire in New York in March 1911. Hundred years on women workers from many sectors in Malaysia face similar problems. Today we want to highlight the plight of two sectors –  domestic workers and informal workers.

Malaysian domestic workers are exempted from almost rights accorded to workers in the Employment Act, 1955. Half century later the Malaysian government has still not shed its patriarchal attitude towards  these workers. In Report IV (2A) of the International Labour Conference which is a document in preparation for the 100th session the Malaysian government has made the following stand:

Domestic work is not seen as ordinary employment. The rights of householders should also be considered. A Recommendation would be more suitable than a Convention.

This remark was made in connection to a call for governments’ comments about a proposed text for a Convention on Domestic Workers. Malaysia was not among 39 countries that welcomed the text in preparation for a discussion on the above proposed Convention.

We are disappointed that our government thinks the relationship between a worker and an employer in a private home does not constitute normal work and thus does not warrant any protection.  We urge the Minister of Human Resources and the Minister of Women and Family Affairs to review this archaic stand and take a more professional view of domestic workers.

The second issue we wish to highlight is that 100 years after attention was drawn to the sorry plight of women workers things have not improved much for women workers here in Malaysia. 

While there is an Employment Act and other legislation to protect the rights of workers these are currently being violated in many ways. One way is that workers, especially women, are employed by contractors and subcontractors who ignore their legal duty as employers (as warranted under the Employment Act) and say that they are labour agents who supply labour to workplaces. Whatever they choose to call themselves they should be made to comply with the Employment Act and provide for their workers as the Act requires. We condemn the current penchant to do away with all duties as Employers by employing workers indirectly and claiming that they are not employers. We call upon the government to take this issue seriously as it affects large sections of the Malaysian Labour force be they local or migrant. The government cannot choose to think only of the interests of the Employers in this regard.

In conjunction with this 100th year of International Women’s Day we call upon the government and the people of Malaysia to protect and defend the rights of women workers especially those in precarious employment like domestic and informal workers.

Irene Xavier
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor
(A grassroots women workers organisation since 1984)

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