Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The flow-on consequences of the Malaysian ban

Since Indonesian domestic workers were banned from working in Malaysia after the string of "maid abuses" publicized in the media, there has been a lot of flow on effects which need to be considered.

From the Indonesian side of the ban, many Indonesian women are unable to work as domestic workers in Malaysia, who either have worked there before or wanted to work in a country close by and with a similar culture. Instead they are forced to go to further away, such as to the Arab countries, where the culture is very different and the employment conditions not much better than Malaysia. On the positive side there was recently a report that Singapore is wanting to attract more Indonesian domestic workers. According to a resent article in TODAYonline, 17 employment agencies, in Singapore will be increasing the monthly salaries of new Indonesian domestic workers from $380 to $450 to compete with Hong Kong and Taiwan (which still pay a much higher rate) apparently there will be no change in the Foreign Placement Fee, but that remains to be seen. The other effect for Indonesians is that since the legal channels are shut, more domestic workers are being smuggled or trafficked into Malaysia then ever before, this is a major concern. Such as the case of Sopiati’s (not her real name) punched almost daily by her employers in Rawang, where she worked for six months without pay after being brought into the country illegally (reported in The Star online). With the shortage of domestic workers in Malaysia, it is the illegal and unscrupulous agents which are benefiting. 

Prior to the ban, Indonesia was sending 3,000 domestic helpers to Malaysia a month, 80% of Malaysians domestic workers! So you can image the shortage of domestic workers that Malaysia is currently facing, apparently 50,000 households are on waiting lists. This means that desperate households may be less careful about the agency that their domestic workers come from. The Malay Mail recently ran an interesting story (I don’t care: its a 'maid' problem) on how a household was told that they would have to wait 6 months for a domestic worker, but a unscrupulous agent offered one straight away for much cheaper, its unsurprising that many would take this option. Malaysia is currently trying to deal with the problem by getting more domestic workers in from Cambodia, although apparently they are less likely to renew their contracts and there is a shortage of Cambodian domestic workers willing to fill the vacuum. 

At this stage it would be good for everyone if Malaysia could agree to the extra conditions that the Indonesian government is asking for and sign the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), they should include migrant domestic workers in their labour laws, give them at least one day off a week, a minimum wage and the right to keep their documentation. Malaysia needs to recognise domestic work as work. 

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