A 'master and servant' attitude which dehumanises domestic workers was yesterday blamed for a string of horrific abuse cases against maids in Asia. Labour activists called on governments to change outdated thinking through new policies and public education programmes after the latest headline-grabbing case, in which a wealthy Singaporean woman was convicted of beating, scalding, biting and knifing her Indonesian maid. Poon Yen Nee, 30, will be sentenced today. She admitted in court on Tuesday to the abuse, including slashing the maid, Mujianti, beneath her left eye with a penknife for using a dirty dish for cooking and cutting her back for sleeping on the job. Malaysians were outraged in May after Indonesian domestic worker Nirmala Bonet was admitted to hospital with severe wounds over her body she claimed were caused by her employer. The trial of Yim Pek Ha, a 35-year-old mother of four, is continuing. Similar cases have also been reported in Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years. Migrant welfare organisations say abuse of domestic workers is common in Asia's affluent societies. Labour activists laid much of the blame on governments for not engendering a mindset that treated domestic workers with respect. In Singapore and Malaysia, maids were not protected by labour laws, they said. Sinapan Samydorai, the executive director of the Singapore-based non-government group Think Centre, said long-held cultural attitudes could only be changed with action by officials. 'In the Chinese community, maids are treated almost as personal property,' Mr Samydorai said. 'Among Indians, the caste system often applies. In both cases, the subsequent abuses can include beatings and non-payment of wages. They do not think of them as equal human beings.' He advocated public education on issues such as human rights and values to instil greater awareness. The government could do more to recognise domestic workers through labour laws, he added. His views were backed by Malaysian labour and women's rights campaigner Irene Fernandez. A slave-like situation had developed between employers and domestic workers because of a 'master and servant' mentality, she believed. 'Until recognition is given to domestic helpers as domestic workers rather than servants, the relationship will not change,' Ms Fernandez said. 'The abuse will continue and rising affluence will only make it worse.' Racism and the low status of women in society also contributed to the incidence of abuse, she said. But Hong Kong-based activists said more simplistic reasons also lay at the root of the abuse. The managing director of the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, Ramon Bultron, said linguistic difficulties and economic stress often led to employers lashing out. 'Often they hire foreign workers not just because they need help, but because it boosts their stature in the community,' he said. 'Often, such people are not economically able to take on the responsibility and they take out their frustrations on their employee.' Most problems were caused by a communications gap, the Asian Migrant Centre's Nurul Qoiriah believed. 'We've had cases of Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong being physically abused by their employees when they made a small mistake [because of a misunderstanding].'