Witness #25 | Meenambal
After my marriage, I started working in 1983 in Pilmoor Estate, near the old Subang Airport, when I was in my early twenties. I grew up on a plantation, and tapping rubber was one job that I was very skilled in. In 1985, we were told that the estate was sold and we lost our jobs. We were employed as contract workers to tap the rubber trees. I lived nearby in an urban pioneer community called Kg. Lembah where we built our own wooden house. I received no compensation for losing my job. In contract work we are paid for every day that we work, and not one cent more. Even in those two years we had to file a complaint in the Labour Department with the help of PSWS [Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (Friends of Women Organisation)], to get our employer to pay us EPF [Employees Provident Fund] and SOCSO [Social Security Organisation].
After losing my job as a rubber tapper I went to work as a cleaner — as a contract worker — in the old Subang Airport for about three years. In 1989, Pilmoor Estate and the land on which my house stood on were going to be redeveloped, and I lost my house. This house was partly used as a community kindergarten, and was recorded as a kindergarten by the surveyors. The political party that promised to help us get alternative housing as compensation refused to allow me to get a house. Then my family moved to another area (Kg. Kayu Ara) where my mother-in-law lived. I started to work as a domestic worker because there was middle-class housing in the vicinity. This is an example of how much I was paid — I worked for RM40 for two days a week with one employer. Then I got more houses to work in. In December 1989, I worked in Damansara Utama.
Only in 1990 I got jobs that paid RM100 for working three hours a day, and three days a week. I used to earn about RM450 or RM500 a month. Our problems were: I had no opportunity to ask for higher wages or shorter hours. It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. If I took sick leave, I would not be paid. I used a bicycle to travel to work. We used to gather other domestic workers together, and formed a group of domestic workers in PSWS. We wanted to ask for EPF and SOCSO for domestic workers after one worker died in an accident on her way back from domestic work. After a group of 12 of us formed, we asked our employers individually. Only three employers registered their domestic workers for EPF and SOCSO. This was because they had companies and they put these domestic workers on their payroll, and the women received EPF and SOCSO. The other employers did not want to take the trouble to register their domestic workers in SOCSO or EPF as it was not mandatory for them. My employers refused, and I was told to stop work if I insisted. This was said to me verbally. So, because I needed the income, I just continued. This kampong was also earmarked for development, and we lost our houses. I then moved to the longhouses that the developer provided. From there I later moved to the low-cost flat where I live till today.
I also give an example of an employer I worked for, for 23 years. I started at RM40 a month for two hours of work a week. Then the wages increased until the 23rd year of employment when I earned RM240 a month with a few added tasks, and the two hours a day stretched longer.
Today I still earn very little. In fact I earn less than the migrant domestic workers. Why? Let me repeat what my employer said. “Foreign domestic workers start work at five or six o’clock in the morning, and only stop work close to midnight. They also do everything — bathe the pets, take the children to preschool, and mind the children, for example. You only work for the hours that we have arranged and only the tasks that we agreed upon. So naturally you earn less.” There is no minimum wage for domestic work — monthly rate or hourly rate.
If I leave my job I have no income or savings. I need a minimum of RM1,100 monthly to cover utilities (RM200), transport (RM300), and food (RM600). I try to earn more by selling flowers for my other needs like clothes, motorbike maintenance and repairs, festivals, and emergencies. In addition to this, my health problems are many — I have developed severe allergies to the detergents I use in my domestic work, and I also suffer from breathlessness when I use Clorox [a type of bleach]. I seek treatment, which is RM400 monthly, at my own expense. The doctor advised me to stop doing this type of work, but how can I survive? My colleagues also suffer from similar conditions.
What I ask:
(1) Domestic work should be considered as work.
(2) Domestic workers should have all the rights accorded to workers in our laws, and enjoy protection like other workers.
(3) We should have the right to form a trade union of domestic workers.
I know that I am discriminated against because I am a woman. Our culture, and all my employers think that housework is work that all women do, especially poor women. When I ask for a raise, they say that this is all they are willing to pay. It is easy for them to find another woman to do housework which is, after all, not skilled, in their opinion, and most women can do it. Housework is related to being a woman, in most people’s eyes. If a woman is poor enough to ask to do paid housework, then she becomes a domestic worker. This is the same for care of infants, children, and the elderly — it is all regarded as women’s work. That is why for so many years the Employment Act 1955 has discriminated against us women, and is still discriminating against us.