Migrant workers' rights group Tenaganita has reiterated its call for a better protection of foreign domestic workers in the wake of a court decision against homemaker Yim Pek Ha.
Yim was sentenced to 18 years in jail after she was found guilty of grievously hurting her domestic helper Nirmala Bonat.
Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez said that the jail sentence imposed on Yim "must bring out a lot of soul searching in how domestic workers are treated and employed in the country".
She said that it was time for everyone to critically address the conditions that enabled employers' such as Yim to systematically and continuously harm her domestic worker.
"The power of the employer to hold her domestic worker's passport; the non-recognition of Nirmala as a worker under the Employment Act: no off-day but work very long hours for seven days a week ; and kept in isolation gave Yim the confidence and the power to abuse and belief that Nirmala will never be able to seek redress.
"It is these conditions that must be addressed. Yim will pay through her jail sentence for the grievous hurt caused on Nirmala," she said.
However, she blamed the government too for being equally responsible because the conditions of work are not regulated.
There is neither a law nor a standardised contract to protect Nirmala and all other domestic workers.
"The government provided the condition of isolation by not giving a paid day off. And consequently, it opened the doors for abuse and exploitation," she said.
Fernandez said that while it could be an end for Nirmala's case, there were many more Nirmalas in the country who were in a vulnerable situation.
Irene who was acquitted on Monday on a charge of publishing false news on ill-treatment and abuse of migrant workers after a 13-year court battle, should know what she is talking.
Tenaganita has handled more than 188 cases of domestic workers who have been abused, raped and exploited with intense human rights violations.
According to her, the government must attack the root causes of such forms of abuse and exploitation. As a priority, it must immediately recognise the conditions under which these domestic workers were working.
"There is a need to give a paid day off to all domestic workers and a standardised contract that will clearly state the terms and conditions of employment," she added.
She also urged the Human Resources Ministry to stop being silent as it is part of the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers.
"The ministry must do justice to more than half a million women who are working as domestic workers in this country.
"It is only when domestic workers are recognised as workers and protected through an effective legislation that we can say justice is done to Nirmala and all domestic workers," she said.