Monday January 4, 2010
Stories by BAVANI M and CHOONG MEK ZHIN
EVER since the Nirmala Bonat case made headlines in 2004, Malaysian employers have been stigmatised as being insensitive, cruel and sadistic slave drivers.
And, not surprisingly so. The images of the 19-year-old Indonesian’s face, back and breast knotted with scars, welts, and burns — the result of her employer’s handiwork — splashed in both the local and foreign newspapers had sent the whole country into shock.
Every one was appalled. The thought running through people’s minds was that no one in their right mind would treat another human being that way, and despite the fact that the perpetrator was rightly charged and punished, that incident, coupled with a few other isolated cases, has not only given Malaysian employers a bad name, it has tarnished the country’s reputation.
The issue has also marred relations between Malaysia and Indonesia and prompted the Indonesian government to temporarily stop sending domestic workers to Malaysia since June.
The Human Resources Ministry’s move to have meetings involving employers and maids to tackle the problem did not go down well with employers, as it gave the impression that all employers are potential abusers, and they are arguing that the government should take a more holistic approach to resolve the problem.
“They are not looking at the big picture. We are generally good employers and most of us treat our maids well,” 50-year-old Vijendran Arumugam said.
“If you have 50 abuse cases out of 200,000 maids, having a seminar to resolve issues is just a waste of time,” Vijendran said.
Currently, Indonesians make up more than 90% of the 280,000 foreign maids in Malaysia.
Vijendran, who prides himself on being a good employer, has always had a cordial relationship with his maid, and attributes this to the fact that he does not see her as cheap labour.
“While I don’t give her a day off, she is free to do whatever she wants once her chores are done, which is usually about 7pm,” he said.
Vijendran’s maid, Mutiara Elena Simbolon, was brought in as a companion for his 81-year-old mother Thilagabathy Ramasamy.
The 22-year-old, who hails from the village of Sidikalang in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia, has been working for the family for over a year now.
She shares a room with Thilagabathy and does basic housework and some gardening. During her free time, she watches Tamil dramas and Hollywood movies on Astro.
“I leave her alone to do her thing and she is trustworthy, but that is because we have an understanding,’’ Vijendran said.
“When we do our regular springcleaning, every one helps out. We work together.
“We don’t treat her like a slave. Just because we are paying her, it doesn’t mean that we must squeeze everything we can out of her,” he added.
Vijendran expressed disgust at employers who work their maids to the bone. Some maids start their work day as early as 5am and finish only at midnight, and are not allowed to rest or watch television in between.
“I know one family who have five cars and children as big as buffaloes. Yet, none of them will lift a finger to help the maid wash the cars. I’ve seen her up at 5am and doing it all by herself,” he said.
Sharifah Norzilah Syed Jalaludin, 50, agrees with Vijendran that employers should respect and treat their maids well.
“We should treat our maids the way we want to be treated, and we can only hope they reciprocate. It is important to remember that they are human and have needs and feelings just like we do,” she said.
According to Sharifah Norzilah, her Indonesian maid Ani Sri Haryani, fondly known as Nanie, does her work on her own initiative and is quite smart.
“Whenever I cook, she’ll come and observe. She learns very fast and because I could see her intelligence, I offered to pay for driving classes for her so that she could get a licence,” Sharifah Norzilah said.
Retired teacher Suseela Papoo, 67, treats her maid Manikem Tarmide, 28, like a family member.
“Ani, as she is fondly called, is a natural with kids and all my grandchildren love her. Even though it’s not part of her responsibility to look after the kids, she still dotes on them. She herself has a five-year-old daughter at home,” Suseela said.
Fatimah Syed Mohamad thanks her lucky stars that 36-year-old Alfiyah came into her household. The 48-year-old businesswoman trusts her Indonesian maid completely.
“She has been with me for seven years and I think that itself speaks a lot for her feelings towards us,” Fatimah said.
“I appreciate her as good help is hard to come by. She does not need to be told more than once and she is a fast learner and independent. What more could one ask for?” she said, adding that a happy maid was a good maid.
Of course, there are two sides to a coin. While Vijendran, Sharifah Norzilah, Suseela and Fatimah are lucky to have good maids, there are cases of employers being saddled with terrible maids.
Perhaps, it is important to choose a maid from a trustworthy agency and do all the necessary background checks. At the end of the day, it takes two to make a relationship work.
Domestic helps who are the envy of their peers