Legal protections towards housemaids should be changed, says ILO


ILO representatives, Wai Hnin Po and Hkun Sa Mun Htoi, discuss the treatment of housemaids in Myanmar, many of whom are often children from poor families who are vulnerable to abuse. Photo: Ei Cherry Aung/Myanmar Now

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has long had an office in Myanmar that focused on ending forced labour, a practice used by the former military regime, but the ILO’s work also includes supporting freedom of association, safe labour migration and ending child labour.

The latter problem remains common in Myanmar. The practice of using children from poor families as live-in housemaids and servants at homes, restaurants and stores carries particular risk, as children are isolated and vulnerable to abuse by their employers.

A Myanmar Now reporter recently informed police about severe abuse and slavery-like conditions suffered by two teenage maids at Ava Tailor Shop in Yangon. Last month, the case and its subsequent mishandling by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission sparked public outrage and led to the dismissal of four commissioners.

Myanmar Now spoke with ILO representatives Hkun Sa Mun Htoi, National Project Coordinator LIFT, and Wai Hnin Po, National Project Coordinator at TRIANGLE 2, about the problem of child labour in domestic work.

Question: What sort steps should be prioritised to ensure safe working conditions for domestic workers?

Hkun Sa Mun Htoi: They have not yet received legal protections for their profession at home, nor abroad. The government has not lifted bans on (sending Myanmar maids) overseas (for) domestic work. However, Singaporean authorities said Myanmar domestic workers come into their city state almost every day. As their jobs are unregulated in Singapore, they remain neglected and fail to enjoy labour rights or legal protection.

Wai Hnin Po: In addition to legal protections, attitudes towards housemaids should be changed. Gender discrimination is another issue for domestic workers. Both the government and individual organisations need to pay more respect to the profession of domestic worker and take steps to prevent discrimination, torture and abuses.

Q: Recently, there was much public anger over the abuse of two teenage maids in a Yangon tailor shop. Why are such cases happening?

HSMH: Poverty is considerably high in Myanmar. Children leave school at an early age. Some will work as waiters at teashop or as housemaids. The employers treat these children as movable property and many abused children will flee from their job.

WHP: Myanmar ratified the ILO Convention 182 (on the worst forms of child labour) in December 2013 to prevent slavery or abuse. The age limit of child workers in Myanmar is between 14 and 18 years, but children under 14 are often working. It is difficult to prevent this problem because of the poverty of many households.

Q: Domestic workers inside Myanmar are usually arranged through unregulated private brokers. Should there be official job agencies for maids?

WHP: The Kayin Baptist Convention has had four organisations for women’s affairs in Yangon for over a decade. They provide assistance to local domestic workers through job training and by arranging contracts between the employers and domestic workers. They also negotiate among the workers and employers to ensure both parties are satisfied. Such organisations are also needed in other areas of the country.

Q: What is the situation with regard to unofficial brokers who supply housemaids? And how can they be regulated?

WPO: I have no exact data on this problem and cannot find it. But I believe official local employment agencies would be more trustworthy than unofficial brokers. Better labour laws are also very important to prevent the dangers of unofficial brokers.

Q: How can employers’ treatment of domestic workers be improved?

HSMH: Knowledge about the rights of domestic workers should be disseminated among the public. Some housemaids are not even allowed to go outside. It will be quite difficult to persuade such employers to treat domestic workers better, but we need to persuade them. Job contracts for domestic workers should also include their working hours, salary and so on, to avoid disputes between employers and workers.

WPO: Domestic workers are included as a category of workers in the labour law. However, they do not enjoy official working hours, wages or off-days in accordance with the law. So, they face many problems. I would like to suggest that instead of enacting a separate law for domestic workers, provisions should be adopted into current labour law that help protect and promote their rights. Only then, could we persuade the employers to take part in protecting the rights of housemaids.

Q: Which sort of provisions should be included in labour laws?

WPO: The law should include the maximum working hours per week, off-days and so on. They should enjoy the official minimum wage rate, social welfare and healthcare programmes, and be able to have contact with their family. The number of offdays for them has been set in ILO Convention 189; they should enjoy at least one off-day per week.

Q: Is the ILO taking any steps to improve the conditions of housemaids?

HSMH: We are organising more workshops and conferences to promote the role of housemaids. We are passing on messages of stakeholders in this sector. We will also disseminate information received from our partner CSOs and labour organisations. 

WHP: These messages can effectively reach the public if we use radio and television. We often found both the house owners and domestic workers do not see the value of household work. The domestic workers need to appreciate their own jobs. A minimum age should be set for domestic work to avoid problems.

Q: Do you think housemaids need training programmes for their work?

HMSH: Housemaids should get training. It is a win-win for both the employers and employees. 

WHP: Training programmes for the housemaids should be done either by the government or the private sector.

Courtesy of Myanmar Now

More Articles