By Camille Elemia | 12 Feb 2017
PART 1: Despite ASEAN’s decade-long intention to protect migrant workers in the region, nothing has been done for the undocumented labor migrants, who continue to endure hardships in silence
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Filipina domestic helpers Erika*, 37, and Fe*, 34, face their daily lives with uncertainty, hanging on to daily prayers in the hope that the day would not be the fateful day when immigration officers find them.
Both ran away from their employers – the most common reason why workers turn into undocumented labor migrants in Malaysia, one of the top receiving countries of migrant workers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
But a decade since leaders of the 10-member ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, a deadlock on the creation of an ASEAN treaty to protect them remains. Neither is there final agreement on whether or not undocumented workers should be covered.
These hidden workers, like their documented counterparts, contribute to the economies and societies of their host governments.
Erika and Fe are just two among the estimated 5 million undocumented labor migrants in Malaysia, according to non-governmental oranization Tenaganita. The Philippines is one of the top sending nations in the region, besides Indonesia.
For more than a year, the two were not given days off and correct salaries by their respective employers. Add to that the enormity of their tasks, which were not indicated in their original contracts. (READ: Migrant workers: Undocumented, unprotected)
The minimum salary set by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for Filipino domestic workers in Malaysia is $400 (at least 1,700 Malaysian ringgit or P19,000). But more often than not, Malaysian employment agencies don’t follow this.
They end up amending the contract between the employer and the worker. Both Erika and Fe received only 1,000 ringgit monthly with a heavier than promised workload.
“They do not comply with the required days off here. If you’re a domestic worker here, the agency is the one that tells the employer not to give you any break. I had no day off for one- and-a-half years. I was not allowed to use cellphones and my passport was withheld from me,” Erika said in Filipino.