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Asia

Maidless in Malaysia

Following a string of rights abuses of its maids in Malaysia, the Indonesian government decided to ban citizens from working there. With 90 percent of the maids coming from Indonesia, many homes are now left maid-less.

Indonesian maid cleans windows at high rise apartment

The luxury of having live-in maids is becoming a rarity

For many working couples with children in Malaysia, it is very convenient to have a live-in maid who takes care of the children and cleans the house. But such luxury is becoming a rarity. A majority of the maids are from Indonesia and the Indonesian government has implemented bans on its citizens seeking work in Malaysia, following a string of rights abuses of its maids. Since the bans, the number of migrant workers in Malaysia has dropped from 300,000 to 170,000.

Though this is making family life difficult for Malaysians who rely on the Indonesian maids, Irene Fernandez from the rights organization, Tenaganita, believes that there must be solid legislation to protect the workers. She said, “I have told the Indonesian government that they should not concede to the Malaysian government at any point, but hold on to recognizing the fundamental rights of the domestic workers.”

Protecting the rights of domestic workers

A maid takes an older employer for a walk

Fundametal rights of the workers are not yet recognized

As a revision to an agreement from 2006, the Indonesian government is demanding clear regulations on some aspects. Domestic workers should be allowed to keep their passports, which are usually handed over to the employers. Further demands are that wages are paid on time and that it is clear who pays the recruitment fees, which many employers simply deduct from the salaries. In some cases, that means that some maids do not earn money for a few months.

Rights abuses vary. Some maids even have to be on call round the clock because they don't have set working hours. Anis Hidayah from the Indonesian NGO Migrant Care believes the maids should have official work schedules. She said, a reason behind the high number of maltreatments of the maids also lies in the fact that they are not allowed to move freely. “They do not get any days off, they cannot socialize or start an organization or anything. Therefore they are not able to do anything against the abusive behavior of their employers.”

120 dollars per month

So far, the talks have taken up the topic of minimum wage. For toiling around the clock, Indonesian maids receive 120 dollars per month. By comparison, domestic workers from Cambodia and the Philippines receive 180 dollars per month and those from Hong Kong get at least 460 dollars. Indonesia is now demanding 260 dollars, which the Malaysian government still refuses.

An Indonesian migrant worker holds his identity card

Many Indonesians still choose to work in Malaysia

Despite the ban, a number of Indonesians still choose to go to Malaysia to work as domestic workers. Malaysia, which allows domestic worker recruitment, continues to issue work permits and does not see this as illegal. Irene Fernandez sees a danger in this, saying this cheats them out of fair pay. "In the end, the domestic workers suffer. For us, it’s equal to human trafficking. It’s a dead bondage situation that they are forced into."

Comprehensive protection

Indonesian activist, Anis Hidayah, recognizes the same problem. She says it is therefore crucial that both governments act fast in reaching an agreement. But with the high number of domestic workers, she thinks that both countries also have to agree on fair law enforcement process.


One way to solve this problem, experts agree, would be for Indonesia to remember its promise from 1998 and ratify and implement the UN labour convention from 1990, which defines the rights of migrant workers. This way, Indonesia would have a better foundation for the protection of its approximately 4.5 million migrant workers around the world.

Author: Anggatira Gollmer

Editor: Sarah Berning

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