Domestic Worker Rights: Gauging the Impact of Open Doors

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Hiring a live-in domestic worker in Southeast Asia is not uncommon among middle and upper income families. These domestic workers are often migrants from other countries. Unfortunately, domestic workers – and especially those living with families – can face abuses such as no weekly day off, having to be on call 24 hours a day, not being allowed to keep their passports and not being paid a fair salary.


To address exploitation in the domestic work sector, IOM X created a regional video programme called Open Doors: An IOM X Production.


Open Doors aims to reach as many employers in the region as possible, in order to increase awareness of the exploitation of domestic workers and encourage employers to adopt better behaviours towards them.


Testing the impact of a regional programme requires a regional approach. Open Doors was tested with viewers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand by IOM X’s research partner, Rapid Asia. In each of the countries, the video was shown to a sample of the intended target audience – people between the ages of 15-50. Most of the survey participants employed domestic workers (47% of Thai, 62% of Indonesian and 100% of Malaysian respondents), some of which were migrants and some of which were nationals of the country where they work.


Over 700 people were surveyed before and after watching Open Doors, to see what impact the programme had on viewers’ levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended practices towards domestic workers and their rights.



Surveyed viewers from Malaysia and Indonesia appear to have learned the most about domestic worker entitlements after watching Open Doors, as their knowledge levels increased by an average of 32 per cent. Thai viewers’ knowledge also increased, although to a lesser extent, at 17 per cent.


In all three countries, knowledge of a weekly day off and paid rest days was high, about 85 per cent of those surveyed knew about these rights. However, across the board, audiences from all three countries showed low awareness on what constitute fair working hours. This shows that there needs to be more efforts to inform employers that domestic workers deserve fair working hours, just like employees in any other sector.


Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards migrant domestic workers were still expressed by an average of 42 per cent of the people surveyed after watching Open Doors. Shifting attitudes is generally an extremely difficult task that is unlikely to be accomplished after seeing one video. However, despite the high levels of negative attitudes, Open Doors was able to make a small dent. When comparing the scores of all three countries, ignorance, measured by asking participants if they agree or disagree with the statement ‘live-in domestic workers should be available to work at any time’, on average decreased the most (by 18%) in all three countries. The most remarkable shift in attitudes was found in Malaysia, where negative attitudes decreased by 19 per cent. Such a high decrease in negative attitudes speaks for the effectiveness of Open Doors to connect to employers.


The three-country survey found that intended behaviours towards domestic workers were high; although in general behavioural intent was high in the pre-survey already (at an average of 72%), it increased in all three countries, especially in Indonesia (up 16%). The most significant increase in behaviour was concerning the practice of advising friends who are about to hire a domestic worker. On average this behaviour increased by 18 per cent.



One interesting finding was that those who employ migrant domestic workers always showed higher levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended practices than those who employ local domestic workers. It was also found that those who were previously exposed to news around domestic workers had higher levels of knowledge, attitudes and intended behaviour, compared to those who didn’t. This shows that experience and exposure to information, and interaction with domestic workers, may contribute to a better understanding about domestic worker rights.


With about 84 per cent of surveyed viewers saying they found Open Doors interesting and learned something new, it can be said that across the region the programme accomplished its objective. The programme set out to raise awareness of the exploitation that domestic workers face, and to encourage employers to adopt positive behaviours that will reduce exploitation. Encouraged by these positive findings, IOM X continues to disseminate Open Doors across the region.


To read the full comparative impact assessment study of Open Doors in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand click here.

Ask Judy: Advice from a Migrant Worker in Hong Kong

Baca dalam Bahasa Indonesia: klik di sini.

What do migrant workers in Hong Kong want? What do they need? What advice would they give to aspirant migrants?

To find out the answers to these questions, we interviewed Sri Martuti (who goes by Judy), an Indonesian domestic worker in Hong Kong.


Where are you from? Why did you decide to come to Hong Kong? How long have you been working here?

I’m from Cilacap, Central Java, in Indonesia. I decided to migrate to Hong Kong for two reasons: 1) Economic needs (I’m a single parent); and 2) It is hard to find work in Indonesia. I migrated to Hong Kong in April 2009 and have worked here for eight years.


What do you like about working in Hong Kong? What do you dislike?

First, working in Hong Kong has given me a lot of knowledge, new experiences and opportunities that I would not have gotten in Indonesia. It has also been a place for me to learn the meaning of being self-reliant. Here, I am free to express myself and develop my skills and talents. Besides that, I am comfortable because I don’t experience discrimination and life here is very organized and dynamic.

Still, Hong Kong with its freedoms can make people become materialistic and hedonistic. If you hang out with the wrong group of people or friends, Hong Kong can be like hell.


Where do Indonesian migrant workers turn to for advice? What stops Indonesian migrant workers from reaching out to organizations or the government for help?

Indonesian migrant workers look for advice from their network or friends because of one factor: comfort. Indonesian migrant workers tend to shy away from government or other organizations that are actually very competent in giving information about labour rights simply because they are unable to give that same feeling of comfort or satisfaction to migrant workers.

There are several factors why Indonesian migrant workers aren’t familiar with government or other institutions and would prefer to reach out to friends. One reason is that they feel afraid, worried or intimidated by these institutions. This is due to the attitudes and treatment from some government employees who underestimate or dismiss the issues faced by Indonesian migrant workers.


How can Indonesian migrant workers avoid exploitation and succeed abroad? 

Indonesian migrant workers can avoid exploitation and succeed abroad if they:

  • Set goals and focus on achieving them by a certain time.
  • Don’t fall easily for things that aren’t certain (e.g. love, debts, business, etc.)
  • Regularly join positive activities that can help when they go home, like seminars, courses and lectures.
  • Take advantage of technology (gadgets and the Internet) to study and find useful information.
  • Widen their network and keep good relationships with friends and organizations.
  • Communicate regularly with their family back home.
  • Be diligent about saving and avoid wasting money.



If you could give advice to aspirant migrant workers, what would you tell them?

I would like to tell them a few things:

  • Laws and worker rights:

Ask your recruitment agency about laws to protect migrant workers and specific rights. This can include things like: salary, right to take leave and day off each week, rights when sick or giving birth, health insurance, working hours, facilities in your employer’s home, specific duties and rights when your contract ends or is terminated.

  • Hong Kong culture:

Ask your friends and employer about laws and customs in your employer’s home and Hong Kong society. You should also learn to communicate in Cantonese or English and stay informed through online and print media.

  • How to find an NGO:

Ask your friends about an Indonesian migrant worker NGO that offers counselling services. Always attend opportunities to learn through activities at the Indonesian consulate, NGOs or migrant worker organizations.


What advice would you have given yourself before you came to Hong Kong?

I would tell myself:

  • I must succeed and return to Indonesia safely.
  • I must always remember the reason I came to Hong Kong.
  • I must always remember my family who is waiting for me at home.
  • I must remember God so that I am always protected.
  • I must obey the laws of Hong Kong.
  • I must save.
  • I must return to Indonesia as a successful person.


What are your dreams for the future?

I want to return to Indonesia soon and return to teaching like I was doing before I left for Hong Kong. I’d also like to return to being on the radio so that I can continue giving helpful information to many people. I hope to open a Community Learning Center (PKBM) for youth who drop out of school and housewives. I also want to open a small business for returned migrant workers so that they can be empowered.