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New labour policy affirms rights of domestic workers

Update: May, 16/2014 - 09:51

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers for their opinions about a new labour policy, which acknowledges domestic assistance as an official profession and aims to protect the rights of domestic workers. The policy allows full-time helpers to have 12 days of leave a year and leave on national holidays while still receiving their full salary for these days. Our respondents have been unanimous in supporting the policy, although some expressed doubts regarding its feasibility.

Thomas Clark, American, Ohio, USA

In the US, domestic workers have nearly always been at one of the lowest rungs on the ladder of economic opportunity. There's a myriad of small, organized companies that select available domestic helpers, and provide job opportunities to applicants. You can see them riding in their company-owned cars that also serve as rolling advertisements. Wages are called "entry level," starting at the lowest wage allowable by law, and usually only part time, with no benefits or insurance. It's the people that own the cars, organize the companies, and pay the most taxes that make the most profit. If workers are kept at part time, then the companies are able to elude any insurance responsibilities. Especially in the Border States, such as Arizona and California, more domestic helpers are privately hired and in these situations, questions in regard to the legal citizenship of the employee sometimes arise.

Domestic helpers, landscapers, and migrant farm workers have nearly equal employment status in the US. Because their economic and social status is so low, these workers are also often exploited. It seems to me that one of the primary purposes of the government is to prevent the exploitation of its citizens, and in different cultures, countries have their ways to protect workers. In some ways, when Viet Nam requires a labour contract, it brings legitimacy to the employee's relationship with the employer. I see that as a positive step in ensuring worker rights.

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

Domestic workers are modern slaves. There are many documented cases of abuse. Governments need to protect these anonymous and powerless employees.

In Taiwan, I helped an Indonesian escape from a school I worked at. Her passport was confiscated. She did not know who to trust or where to go. The shelter was run by an Italian. A South African teacher told me about the problem.

It's an international phenomenon. Millions of illegal workers keep America's economy rolling along in fresh fruit, clean houses and babysitting filling dirty, undocumented jobs. Poor country workers borrow money to pay agents, often on both sides of the contract.

Concrete steps need to be taken. In one Middle East country, the Philippines issue an ID card and the embassy keeps their passport. If Filipinos need to run away, they have their passport without being held hostage by unscrupulous employers and indifferent governments.

Domestic workers deserve holidays. Holiday weeks should be guaranteed, where they travel home at a prearranged time. They could ‘check in' at their local police station. Employers could not deny this rule.

Too many maids ‘fall' from balconies in Hong Kong or are beaten in Singapore. I propose an international union. Each worker is protected by Skype and by signing in each week on their day off at a specified time at a nice cafe, smiling and bruise free. If this sounds silly and extreme, then so is the status quo.

Quan Nguyen, Vietnamese, Chicago

I do believe that all people find the new labour policy necessary. But, to be honest, I do not think the Decree 27 is feasible.

Helpers are people from poor families. They don't have good education or other skills to be hired in other jobs. In other words, being a helper is certainly not an option for them. They just don't have other choices. That is why many helpers still agree to unfair deals with their bosses.

Decree 27 is good news for them as a vulnerable group in society. It also shows that our Government cares and protects all of its citizens. But, how to apply this labour policy and make it work is the question. In Viet Nam, we have the Labour Union and Viet Nam Women's Union which could protect helpers. However, it seems like these organizations are just symbolic and not very useful. Additionally, helpers aren't well educated and their understanding of the law is somewhat limited. They are vulnerable and do not know what their human rights are.

From my observation, as long as the unfair deal and verbal abuse does not outweigh their suffering, most helpers still want to keep their job.

During my time living in the US, I spoke to so many people from all around the world. And I notice that this issue not only happens in our country but also in all other developing countries, including China. My foreign friends also said that this issue makes policymakers in their country concerned. To me, one way to help them is to create more jobs for the unskilled so that domestic helpers have other choices. When employers see that their helpers could quit and be hired easily somewhere else, they will learn how to appreciate their helpers.

Natsumi Kobayashi, Japanese, HCM City

I'm truly glad that the Vietnamese Government issued such a good policy for domestic helpers. Before discussing whether it is feasible or not, having a legal requirement is the first step to helping protect the rights of domestic helpers, who can be easily subject to abuse. I would like to applaud the effort and wish the authorities success in the enforcement of the new policy.

Phuong Huyen, Vietnamese, Da Nang

I think domestic helpers deserve to rest on holidays as much as everyone else. However, to also help parents enjoy their holidays after days of hard work, I think part-time helpers should be made more readily available. Recently, many companies have begun to offer the service of introducing domestic helpers to families, and many of the helpers are working part-time.

I'm sure it could be a solution to the problem. Many people don't work as helpers full-time and they are willing to work on holidays if it means higher pay.

The problem now is to make sure that the law effective. Many families still fail to have written contracts with their helpers, let alone paying health and social insurance for them or allowing leave on national holidays. — VNS

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