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:

• A commitment to pursue legislative changes to extend equal protection under Malaysia’s labor laws to domestic workers, specifically Section XII of the Employment Act of 1955 and the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1952.

• The right of workers to hold their own passports. When employers or agent hold workers’ passports, this form of control makes it difficult for workers to escape abusive conditions or to negotiate better working conditions and full payment of their wages. The retention of international travel documents by employers and agents contributes to trafficking in persons, forced labor, and undocumented migration.

• A standard contract that ensures minimum labor protections in accordance with national and international labor standards. This includes a 24-hour rest period per week, a fair minimum wage, a limitation on working hours per week, benefits, and safe working conditions.

• The creation of clear mechanisms to provide timely remedies for migrant domestic workers in cases of abuse, and to outline sanctions for employers and labor agents who commit these abuses. Migrant domestic workers with pending criminal cases or labor complaints should be allowed to work while waiting for their cases to be concluded.

• Stronger regulations governing recruitment and employment agencies, with clear mechanisms to monitor and enforce these standards. Issues such as agency fees, standard contracts, provision of accurate information, and conditions of training centers should be addressed. The MOU should prohibit direct recruitment, which bypasses many procedures that provide migrant workers with information, standard contracts, and avenues to seek help in case of problems.

• Protection of workers’ ability to form associations and unions. This is key for raising awareness about migrant workers’ rights. Forming networks not only helps to identify and respond to cases of abuse, but to prevent them.

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

Sincerely,

-Human Rights Watch
-International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)
-Migrant Forum in Asia (a regional network representing 260 migrants’ organizations)
-Migrant CARE Indonesia
-Migrant CARE Malaysia
-Penang Office on Human Development, Malaysia
-Tenaganita, Malaysia
-Working Forum on Justice for Migrant Domestic Workers (FOKER PRT Migran), Indonesia

Cc:
Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn, Minister of Human Resources, Malaysia
Datuk Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, Minister of Home Affairs, Malaysia
Dato’ Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia
Dato’ Ab. Rashid bin Mat Adam, Ministry of Home Affairs, Malaysia
Dato’ Ishak Mohamed, Director of Immigration Enforcement, Malaysia
Datuk Seri Mohd. Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department
SUHAKAM, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

Dr. N. Hassan Wirajuda, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia
Mr. Erman Soeparno, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration, Indonesia
I Gusti Made Arka, Director-General of Foreign Workers, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Indonesia
Ms. Wiwiek Setyowati, Director of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia
Mr. Ferry Adamhar, Director of Protection for Indonesian Citizens Abroad, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia
Mr. Damos Agusman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia
Komnas HAM, Human Rights Commission of Indonesia
Komnas Perempuan, National Commission on Violence against Women, Indonesia