Malaysia: “In this pandemic, we got nothing but solidarity” – The struggle of migrant domestic workers in Malaysia in surviving the lockdown

Malaysia –

Dahliana and Uli are Indonesian migrant domestic workers who have been working and living in Malaysia for about twenty years. Since the Malaysian Government imposed Movement Control Order or Lockdown in early March, their employers told them not to come to work. Dahlia was lucky that she managed to negotiate her salary during the time of one-month lockdown. However, this is not the case with Uli, as she works part-time for multiple employers. For many migrant domestic workers who have lost their jobs during the lockdown, they can only survive from their limited savings, if any. For many others, they do not even have the means to survive as they live from paycheck to paycheck and bear responsibility of sending money back home.

The government of Malaysia announced billions of dollars of health and economic stimulus package including livelihood and unemployment supports for those affected by Covid-19. However, this policy excludes domestic workers and millions of undocumented migrants in the country. As a result, thousands of Indonesian migrant workers who account for the majority of migrants in Malaysia flocked the airports and seaports every day, in efforts to return to their homes. Many opted to exit through irregular routes by cruising through small boats and possibly risked their lives.

Dahliana and Uli decided to stay in Malaysia with their small savings which will only allow them to survive for one or two months. However, despite living under such hardship, they still refused to receive any relief donations for themselves but instead prioritized it for those who need it more. Their union, PERTIM, has set up a hotline number to provide a counseling and reporting channel for domestic workers during the pandemic. Since the lockdown began in the middle of March, their hotline number does not stop ringing. In less than one month, they received approximately 600 calls from Indonesians, asking for basic food. “We never thought that the impact will be this big. When we setup the hotline, we only meant to give them advice and help them to solve the problem when they got terminated. But there are just too many of them and they called us crying for food,” said Dahliana.

With the help of the organizer, the union then initiated a campaign to raise some funds from members to sustain their jobs and livelihoods. They also contacted the embassy, local NGOs and charities to provide food packs. By the end of March, the union has been able to help distribute these parcels to more than 400 Indonesian migrants. “We have to make sure that everyone gets a share. I came to one family of domestic worker who have no money to buy gas. I loaned them some money from my own pocket and handed them the food packs from the donation, which would barely last for one week. With so many requests that came in, we could only give them oil, rice, canned food and 20 eggs to share among eight people living in that house,” said Uli.

No one knows when the pandemic will end and whether they will be able to get back to work. Dahliana and Uli said they will no longer have any means to survive if this condition persists beyond May. “For now, I am very sad and worried and I cannot imagine the future. We got nothing, but only solidarity and care for each other. That’s what keeps us surviving for now,” said Uli.

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