Domestic workers

Underprotected abroad, domestic workers find ways to resist

TEMPO.CO, JakartaDomestic workers in Southeast Asia often migrate to richer countries where they are excluded from labor protections and left vulnerable to abuse. As COVID-19 has worsened working conditions, some migrant workers have found their own ways to resist.

In April, nine Vietnamese women huddled under a smartphone camera to appeal for help to their government and potential supporters in their country. One of the women wore an eye patch to cover an injury she said was caused by her former employer.

In the video they recorded, the women explained that they were domestic workers trapped in a deportation center in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. They needed help to return to Vietnam.

“The employers brought us here without returning our personal effects, passports or wages,” reads one of the women, H’Thai Ayun, in a letter in the video.

Amid pandemic border closures, some of the women had been stranded in the deportation center for several months, others for more than a year, having eluded employers who they say physically abused them and mentally, denied them health care and made them work harder. more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

H’Thai Ayun desperately wanted to go home. She begged her employer to allow her to leave, and when that failed, she refused to speak for seven consecutive days. After the employer handed her over to the Saudi agency that placed her in this job, she went on a hunger strike and demanded to be sent to a deportation center where she could meet with other Vietnamese women. She finally told the agency, “If you don’t let me go home, I will die here.

Other women in the video also tried to call their recruiting officers and the Vietnamese embassy to ask for help getting home, H’Thai Ayun said. New story. But when those efforts failed, they decided to post their video to Facebook, where it has since been shared more than 100,000 times.

By November, most of the women were back in Vietnam, after activists from the American NGO Boat People SOS saw the video and helped them board a flight that brought back the national football team. from Vietnam at home after a game against Saudi Arabia.
Lan *, another Vietnamese domestic worker in Saudi Arabia, also hoped to get home on the flight, but was unable to secure a seat.

“I’m so sad. Every time there’s a theft, they say it’s time for me to come home. But in the end, it’s not,” she said. His two-year employment contract expired in October 2020.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Southeast Asian domestic workers who work in wealthier countries in East Asia and the Middle East were
already one of the most under-protected classes of workers.

Often excluded from the labor law of their host country and lacking legal remedies, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Movement restrictions in place since 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting economic fallout have increased these vulnerabilities.

“Due to this pandemic, living migrant domestic workers worked longer hours with increased workloads, had no days off and limited access to [personal protective equipment], and encountered problems such as unpaid wages and physical and mental health problems ”, explains Bariyah, field organizer
for the International Federation of Domestic Workers.

Yet some Southeast Asian migrant workers have found their own ways to resist.