Malaysia’s Maid Controversy
Image Credit: Irwin Loy

Malaysia’s Maid Controversy


In most countries, access to hired help for around the house would hardly count as a national priority. In Malaysia, however, it’s an issue that Prime Minister Najib Razak needs resolved before he goes to the next election – and after a couple of years of wrangling, he appears to have got his wish.

Indonesia has announced it has ended a three-year ban and allowed its women to return to Malaysia where they can find much-needed work as maids. Some have already left. However, Indonesian women appear to be dragging their feet over the prospect of working in a Malaysian household.

A deal struck in December, which allowed for improved working conditions, better protection and one day off a week, was instrumental in ending a deadlock that erupted after repeated reports of abuse of maids at the hands of their Malaysian employers. That said, the numbers heading in are abysmally small. One recruitment agency said they had hired just 29, well short of the thousands demanded by Malaysia’s middle classes, who have come to see them as a necessity and as such, an election issue.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

An initial 5,000 were expected once the ban was lifted, still well short of the 300,000 who worked in Malaysia – often working from the early hours for about U.S. $200 a month.

Another ban was imposed by Cambodia after repeated reports of abuse.

In the courts this week, a Malaysian couple was charged with causing grievous harm to a Cambodian maid in the latest of a rash of such prosecutions.

Hairdresser Tan Mong Huwai and his wife Eng Lay Sang, both 36, were charged with abusing Chea Phalla, 28, in Kuala Lumpur. Chea Phalla had testified her employers had used an iron rod to beat her and forced her, among other things, to drink her own urine.

Amid this, Malaysian Muslims have been visiting Muslim Cham villagers in Cambodia and offering gifts ahead of the Hari Raya religious festival. Presents from a 1,000 strong convoy in one remote village included generators and clothing and there were so many gifts that they were reportedly ferried across the Gulf of Thailand by the Malaysian military.

As they offered gifts, they also invited the local women to come and work in Malaysia.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief