Jail sentence serves as warning to brutal bosses

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2000, 12:00am

I have read the letters in these columns and news reports, in which Chinese people have expressed their views about the case of the employer who was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment after burning the hands of her maid, Achacoso Warly Cabaneros.

I was particularly disturbed by the comments of your correspondents Wai Chu and William Yang Weilun (South China Morning Post, May 27 and 29 respectively).

How can anyone feel kindly towards Liu Man-kuen, the jailed employer? She has permanently scarred her helper. How will Ms Cabaneros ever be able to forget what has happened? As a Sri Lankan domestic helper, I was pleased when I learned of the verdict and sentence. It should serve as a warning to all bad employers. All employers should look on their helpers as fellow human beings. Liu Man-kuen obviously considered that her helper was worth less than a piece of clothing.

If Wai Chu wants details about bad employers who have physically and mentally abused their maids, she should visit the shelters where the terminated helpers are living temporarily. Then she would see, first hand, how some employers (especially Chinese employers), have treated their maids. The majority of Indonesian maids are underpaid and are also made to work on their rest days. While they should receive a rest day once a week and on public holidays, many domestic helpers get only one or two rest days a month. According to the employment contract, helpers are entitled to food and accommodation, but some helpers still have to pay for board and buy their own food. Some of them also have to work in two or three houses and sometimes even in employers' shops.

British employers understand that their maids have a right to enjoy themselves and relax with friends. The majority of helpers take their jobs very seriously and have tremendous respect for their employers and their families, but they also need to be given time to wind down and relax. Most of the helpers come from the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, which are poor countries. That is why they have come here to work as domestics.

The judge was right to sentence Liu Man-kuen to a term of imprisonment. However, readers should be aware that there are many cases of abuse that never come to light. Also, a large number of domestic helpers are underpaid and exploited by unscrupulous employment agencies.

The plight of many helpers is unlikely to improve, as long as some Chinese look on us as second-class citizens, or in the view of William Yang Weilun, as nothing more than a kitchen appliance.