There appears to be no end to the problems surrounding the shortage of foreign maids in Malaysia. Currently, there are some 150,000 foreign domestic helpers working legally in this country, most of them Indonesians and Filipinas.
With the two source nations – Indonesia and the Philippines – having declared their intentions to cease supplying maids to Malaysia, it is high time the government weaned itself off its dependence on those two countries.
Malaysia’s domestic help woes arose when allegations of low wages and ill-treatment of foreign maids cropped up, compelling their governments to intervene and press for better salaries and working conditions.
In May, the Indonesian government urged Malaysia to raise the monthly pay for its maids to a rather steep RM1,200 from RM800, much to the chagrin of employers.
Earlier in February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that the republic intended to stop sending its women workforce overseas to work as maids.
He also directed his Manpower Minister to draw up a roadmap on when to cease the outflow of domestic workers.
“This practice of sending Indonesian women to work as domestic helpers should stop. We have our own pride and dignity,” Joko was quoted as saying by Indonesian news agency Antara.
The Philippine government has also stated its intention to stop sending domestic helpers overseas in stages and it expects the practice to come to a full stop in 2017.
What will Malaysia’s maid situation be like once the two main suppliers sever their pipelines?
Malaysian Maid Employers Association (MAMA) President Engku Ahmad Fauzi Engku Muhsein is confident that Malaysia would be able to overcome any contingency as it could look elsewhere to source for quality domestic workers.
He said among the countries Malaysia could consider were Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.
“The availability of other sources of maids will not only help overcome any shortage, but will also enable employers to have a wider choice of candidates to choose from… this will help the sector to recover.
“No matter what, we will always insist on high quality of service and ensure that the cost of employing maids remain reasonable and that their wages don’t exceed our country’s minimum pay policy.”
Engku Ahmad Fauzi said to ensure that their work was of high quality, it was crucial for all prospective maids to undergo training in Malayasia and not in their country of origin.
It would also give them the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the local cultures, regulations and household appliances and chores, as well as get to know their responsibilities and rights, he added.
“We’ve no control over the quality of training conducted in the country of origin and many questions tend to rise… as a result of which we get (domestic) workers who don’t meet our requirements.”
In Indonesia, outbound maids have to undergo training involving a minimum of 200 hours, which can stretch over a period of three weeks.
Engku Ahmad Fauzi proposed that special training centres be set up in Malaysia to cater to the domestic sector workforce, adding that training sessions lasting two or three days would suffice.
“There’s no point in forcing them to attend 200 hours of training as they may get bored. They may also not be able to afford it as they will have to pay for their food and lodgings.
“In Indonesia, many prospective maids drop out (of the training) because they find the 200 hours too lengthy.”
Instead of recruiting domestic helpers directly from the source nations, the government should consider inviting prospective maids to undergo training at one of the proposed local training centres, suggested Engku Ahmad Fauzi.
He also felt that the process of bringing “trainee maids” into the country would probably be simpler than recruiting the maids proper.
“Eventually Malaysian employers in search of maids should be allowed to deal directly with these training centres, with the cooperation of government agencies involved in processing work permits.”
Won’t communication problems arise considering that the populations of most of the alternative source nations speak neither Malay nor English.
Engku Ahmad Fauzi, however, waved the language issue aside, pointing out that Bahasa Malaysia was easy to pick up and that for a start maids only needed to know the basics that were in line with their duties.
“This is one of the reasons why we’re recommending that the training be carried out in Malaysia… so that we can teach them some basic Bahasa Malaysia.”
He said the training centres he had proposed could, among other things, hire people from the source countries, who were fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, to teach the language to their compatriots, he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (PAPA) President Jeffrey Foo urged Malaysia to seriously consider recruiting domestic maids from Bangladesh.
He hoped that the government’s intention to recruit some 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers in stages over a three-year period to fulfil the requests for manpower from various sectors would also cover the domestic help sector.
“Malaysian employers are fed up with the shortage of Indonesian maids and are also not satisfied with their quality of work. We’ve also received complaints that some irresponsible agents are imposing very steep fees to recruit domestic helpers.”
He suggested that the government initiate discussions with new source nations to reduce its dependence on Indonesia for the supply of maids.
“Countries like Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nepal are believed to have no problems in sending their maids to Malaysia.”