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Letter to Governments of Malaysia and Indonesia

Human Rights Watch - April 15, 2006

Dear Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyuno:

We are writing to urge you to protect key human rights when representatives from your countries meet on April 17, 2006 to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia. We represent more than 260 migrant workers' organizations around Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia, and international advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch.

Preliminary indications about the agreement suggest that it misses the opportunity to protect the rights of those who need it the most. Indonesian domestic workers often encounter abuses at every stage of the migration cycle, but the draft accord maintains the status quo, and contains few guarantees for their rights.

Approximately 300,000 Indonesian domestic workers are employed in Malaysia. This migration benefits both countries tremendously -- by providing important cleaning and childcare services to Malaysian families and by providing employment and income to Indonesian workers. Despite the critical role these women play to support families in both Malaysia and Indonesia, they often encounter grave abuses during recruitment, training, transit, employment, and return.

Indonesian domestic workers are excluded from key provisions in Malaysia's Employment Act of 1955, denying them protections enjoyed by all other workers. These include a weekly day off, a limit on working hours per week, and annual leave. In addition, many domestic workers experience flagrant abuses such as unpaid wages, restrictions on freedom of movement, physical abuse, and abuses committed by recruitment and employment agencies.

These problems have been extensively documented in investigations and reports prepared by national and international organizations, including the National Commission on Violence Against Women in Indonesia, Migrant CARE, Tenaganita, Migrant Forum in Asia, Human Rights Watch, and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Nongovernmental organizations in both countries and the Indonesian embassy in Malaysia have received thousands of complaints from or on behalf of domestic workers in the past few years. Given the vulnerable position of domestic workers in light of the restrictions on their freedom of movement, and lack of labor protections, we expect the number received only represents a portion of those experiencing similar abuse.

The negotiation of the MOU has remained a closed process, with no opportunity for civil society groups or international organizations with expertise on labor migration to comment on the draft. We urge you to initiate a transparent process for broader public discussion and debate before the agreement is finalized.

We welcome some of the proposed provisions in the MOU, including protections to prevent employers from withholding domestic workers' salaries to pay an annual levy. But the negotiators should ensure the final agreement outlines more comprehensive protections, in accordance with its obligations under international treaties that Indonesia and Malaysia have ratified, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the ILO Convention on Forced Labor, 1930.

Any labor agreement finalized by Indonesia and Malaysia should, at a minimum, include:

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.


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