Malaysia is one of Asia's biggest employers of foreign labour. But recently, cases of deaths, abuse and forced labour have come to light. What is going on? Who is protecting these migrant workers?
INDONESIA is proposing a salary hike for its maids working in this country. From the current RM800 a month, the Indonesian authorities are asking that it be set at RM1,200. The uproar is to be expected. Malaysians are only too human in this respect. They so badly want the services of a domestic help but at prices they can afford and not what is a fair price to pay for the nature of the job, which they are themselves not enamoured with. Of course, the usual excuse is working women find household chores, child and parent caring too burdensome without help. If that is the case then due regard for the maid’s contribution to the employer’s sanity must be properly considered or the so-called “double burden” be accepted as a social norm.
A close scrutiny shows the issue for what it truly is. Malaysian households want the luxury of maids but at a discounted price because their disposable income, after the repayment for car loan, housing loan or rental, as the case may be, and other miscellaneous loans cannot accommodate a fair wage for the help. This is obvious from the admission made by the president of the Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies. Hence, the intention to source cheap labour from elsewhere. There is, too, the complaint that Indonesian maids are untrained, unlike Filipino maids, who command a higher wage. That the Filipino maids are English speaking is another factor giving them the competitive advantage.
On the part of Indonesia, the intention of securing a fair wage for its nationals working abroad is laudable. Already it has stopped sending maids to Saudi Arabia where only recently two of their citizens were beheaded despite calls for clemency. Their president, Joko Widodo, on his first visit to Malaysia in February this year, voiced uneasiness at the number of Indonesian women working in Malaysian homes and a desire to curb it. Malaysia, meanwhile, is attractive to many Indonesian women looking for employment because, firstly, the language interface, secondly, the proximity to home and, finally, for the Muslims, coming to Malaysia is less frightening. In effect, all these work both ways, which adds up to status quo: RM800 or the country’s minimum wage.
But, ultimately, if the care infrastructure in the country is adequate most households would have no need for maids. The long promised community care centres, for children and the elderly, are still to proliferate. The Human Resources Ministry had, what now appears to be, a stillborn idea of home managers, which would have been helpful if it had materialised. As the Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said, the necessary care infrastructure would not only work for working women, it would, too, end the currency outflow caused by income repatriation of foreign workers. Other infrastructure requirements would be single session schools to end the latchkey children phenomenon, a worrisome prospect for all parents. More than maids, therefore, Malaysia needs the support infrastructure that will enable the desired increase in the female labour force participation rate which the country badly needs for economic sustainability.
Source: New Straits Times Online
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