Nearly a third of domestic workers in Malaysia in forced labor conditions

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Nearly a third of migrant workers employed in domestic households in Malaysia work in forced labor conditions, according to a survey released on Thursday by the United Nations employment agency.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has identified conditions such as excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, low wages, restrictions on movement and the inability to quit among its indicators of forced labor.

The survey, based on interviews with 1,201 domestic workers in Southeast Asia, found that 29% of those in Malaysia faced such conditions, compared to 7% and 4% in neighbors Singapore and Thailand, respectively. .

Malaysia and Singapore did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the survey results.

Wannarat Srisuksai, spokesperson for Thailand’s Labor Ministry, told Reuters the treatment of domestic workers in the country had improved following laws introduced in 2012 to protect the group.

In all three countries, the domestic workers surveyed worked on average hours “well above” those required by law for other workers, and none earned the minimum wage, the ILO said.

“Domestic work is one of the most important jobs in our society, yet the least protected. This can no longer be accepted,” said Anna Engblom, senior technical adviser to the ILO programme, who conducted the study.

The ILO has urged Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to ratify UN conventions on domestic workers and forced labour, recognize the skilled nature of domestic work and ensure migration pathways that do not tie workers to their employers.

Households in Asia often employ domestic workers – usually women from developing countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines – to perform household chores such as cooking, cleaning, childcare and gardening.

Malaysia has faced criticism in recent years following multiple incidents of abuse of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysian households, while several of its companies have been accused of exploiting migrant workers.

Indonesians make up around 80% of domestic workers in Malaysia, according to the ILO. Last year, Malaysia and Indonesia signed an agreement to improve protection for domestic workers.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok and Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

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