Malaysia’s long suffering middle classes have been told. There will be no more maids from Indonesia available for them after legislation on the rights of its citizens working abroad comes into effect in 2017, prompting calls for more maids to be brought in from Cambodia and Myanmar.
The issue of maids resurfaced when the Indonesia’s Consul-General in Sarawak, Djoko Harjanto, sought to remind Malaysians that a policy under the Domestic Worker Roadmap 2017, and announced two years ago, was not only aimed at Malaysia but worldwide.
“The ministry had made a statement about this. Not only no more export of domestic helpers to Malaysia – to everywhere in the world,” he said at a Hari Raya open house at his residence in Kuching. “The decrease is not due to any government policy but there are more jobs in Indonesia nowadays, so our people naturally prefer to work in their own country.”
Malaysians have built a critical dependence on relatively cheap domestic helpers. But mistreatment, including violent assaults, poor working conditions and low pay has tarnished the industry and embarrassed nations whose women were forced to work abroad out of economic necessity.
The issue has also caused a diplomatic incident on several fronts between Malaysia and Indonesia. Under the revised rule Jakarta wants maids to be treated like other workers abroad with contractual guarantees for a minimum wage, annual leave and fixed hours.
In response, Malaysian authorities said they would search for alternative sources and hoped to re-open negotiations with Myanmar and Cambodia, which has stopped sending women to Malaysia in response to reports of abuse.
In May, a Malaysian court jailed a couple for starving their Cambodian maid to death. Hardware store owners Soh Chew Tong, 44, and his wife Chin Chui Ling, 42, were found guilty of culpable homicide at a high court in the northern state of Penang. Their maid Mey Sichan was found dead by paramedics. She weighed just 26 kilograms and had suffered from bruising.
“We should also consider hiring locals as domestic helpers. At the same time, Malaysians should not take things for granted and expect maids to do everything under one roof,” Jeffrey Foo, President of the Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies, told local media.
His other suggestions included training grown children or a member of the extended family to care for younger children when their parents were at work, while people in apartment blocks could take turns looking after infants from the same floor.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.