Domestic Workers (or Servants)


Image from globalfundforwomen.org

Here, halfway across the world from America, we refer to them “maids”, defined by the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary as “a woman or girl employed to do domestic work”. Also know as domestic workers, these foreigners leave their homes to work for their predominantly middle class employees abroad, taking on the roles of a live-in nanny, babysitter, and cook, while doubling up to perform household chores simultaneously.

However, due to the laws and visas that allow these foreigners to enter countries to work, one would venture to claim that their human rights are largely unprotected by the law, causing them to be vulnerable to violations of dignity by employers. From a hefty fifty-six-page report by the Human Rights Watch, to research conducted by the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, many instances of the violation of human rights of domestic workers have been documented. Admittedly, before a few years ago, I had no idea that the violation of human rights of domestic workers across the world was so pertinent.

In July 2011, the International Labor Conference adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers, which recognizes domestic workers as workers with the same rights as other, such as blue / white-collared workers. From Guatemala to the United States, domestic workers are largely excluded from legal protection and basic civil rights. Most of them are women, and many toil for 18-hour shifts, leaving little free time nor allowance for sufficient rest. In Singapore, a new law to be implemented next year, would mandate 1 rest day for all domestic workers in Singapore, enabling them to take part in other activities, such as attending church, going shopping, or just having a day off. In addition, domestic workers are often severely underpaid, with an average hourly wage of $2.14 (Human Rights Watch). Some domestic workers are severely indebted from the journey abroad that they lose most of their already meager salary. Moreover, many have to work in dangerous conditions, and are often victims of physical, if not verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse, resulting in loss of lives. In other words, have the their human and labor rights grossly violated.

Beyond that, though, it’s the idea of keeping someone in servitude that prods at a deeper problem within our society, and in fact, the word “servant” on Wikipedia redirects to “domestic worker”. While Abraham Lincoln worked to abolish slavery in the United States, and most people view slavery as non-existent, it is in fact far from eradicated from today’s world. A significant number of domestic workers were lured to work in their respective countries by false promises of wealth/a good job, and end up victims of human trafficking. The Human Rights Watch writes, “at least nine Cambodian women died last year while performing domestic work in Malaysia.” Governments should work towards curbing exploitative employee practices, to provide a dignified, decent working environment for these workers, many of whom who have travelled thousand of mile abroad to seek employment, a better life, and hope.

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