Tens of thousands of Malaysian households have been thrown into domestic chaos as a shortage of maids hits the country with a long-standing addiction to cheap foreign labour.
Nearly two million foreigners, mostly from Indonesia, are registered to work in Malaysian homes, shops, factories and plantations, and many more are undocumented, making Malaysia one of Asia's biggest importers of labour.
Maids from Indonesia, who toil for as little as RM400 a month, have no laws governing their working conditions and a spate of shocking abuse cases prompted Jakarta to declare a ban on new arrivals in June 2009.
In an attempt to stem the mistreatment of domestic workers who have been raped, scalded with boiling water and branded with hot irons, the two governments opened negotiations for a formal labour agreement.
However, the talks have stumbled over Indonesia's demand for a minimum wage, prolonging the ban and causing serious inconvenience for families left without a helper - some 35,000 households according to an industry figure.
"I am struggling without a maid," said Maz, a mother of three who is considering quitting her job as a purchasing officer to take care of the household and her children aged between one and five.
Since becoming a working mum, Maz has had two Indonesian maids who stayed with the family until their two-year contracts ended, but when the last departed in September 2010 there was no one to replace her."I have to send my kids to nursery and babysitters now. All the household chores also fall on me after my work, I'm losing quality time to be with the kids so that is why I'm thinking of quitting my job," she said."I've tried to get a weekend maid to come in just to do the chores, but even that is very difficult now due to this maid shortage."
The problem may seem remote for countries where live-in help is a rare luxury, but in Malaysia, where there are few childcare centres and elderly relatives are often cared for in the home, it has become a crisis.
Not enough to meet demand
The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies says the number of foreign maids in Malaysia has dropped from about 300,000 before the ban to 170,000 at present.It says the shortage has seen a drastic decline from the 3,500 maids who arrived monthly in 2009 to 1,000 currently, leaving 35,000 families on waiting lists.
Agencies have attempted to source new maids from Cambodia and the Philippines, but there are not enough to meet demand.
The government has rejected a request to lower the minimum age requirement for domestic workers from Cambodia from 21 to 18 years, to allow in more women from the impoverished country, who are typically paid RM600 a month.
"We have tried to source from other countries but there is no supply at all," the association's vice-president Foo Yong Hooi told AFP, adding it was the worst shortage seen in his 10 years in the industry.
"It will affect the productivity of our country because career women will need to take leave to attend to their children and the worst scenario is that those who are desperate will resort to hiring illegal maids," he warned.
Malaysia to blame
Labour rights groups said however that Malaysia only has itself to blame because the lack of legal protection, low wages and the continuing abuse cases have led foreign maids to shun the country.
"It is very clear that the shortage is caused by the way that we are treating our domestic workers. We put them in a condition of slavery," said Irene Fernandez (right) from migrant workers' group Tenaganita.
"It is time for the minimum wage. Malaysians can no longer believe that they can continue to hire a worker in a very cheap and exploitative situation, that perception must disappear," she said.
"If they want to hire domestic workers, they must be prepared to pay decent wages and ensure their rights are protected."
Following the 2009 ban, Malaysia agreed to give Indonesian maids one day off a week and allow them to hold on to their passports - which had been routinely confiscated by employers intent on preventing "runaways".
But the talks have stumbled over Indonesia's request for a minimum wage of RM800. By comparison, domestic workers in Hong Kong receive at least US$460 (RM1,400) a month.
Malaysia's government is uneasy about having so many foreign workers in the country, and Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam would give no deadline for a conclusion to the prolonged talks.
"The consultation is still ongoing. We hope we can resolve it as early as we can with terms that the two countries can agree to," he told AFP.
"Except for Indonesia, other doors are open. It is a matter of whether the maid agencies are able to bring in those people," the minister said, adding "there is no easy solution".
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The inability to get domestic workers in Malaysia is becoming a problem, and many are complaining about it...
The problem has been caused by the Malaysian government, that UMNO-led BN government that have kept wages of Malaysians low for so many years, so much so that now both husband and wife have to go find a job just to survive....and hence, the need to get help at home to do housework, look after kids and elderly parents, dependents..
Wages and income of Malaysians should have been so much more higher, whereby there should have no need to both spouses to have to go to work to survive. Keeping wage low was a strategy employed by the BN government to make Malaysia attractive to the foreign investor - but then, of late, especially in the past 10 years plus the Government has not been able to keep the cost of living low. Cost of living still rises - and with the new Goods & Services Tax, even the Astro Bill has gone up. Government is also hurriedly removing subsidies, and price of basic items are also rising... The cost of Summons is also up - now RM300 for a speeding offence, and they are issuing summons left right and centre... [I just got a traffic summons for traveling at 90 KM/h...and, of course that summons came many weeks after the event by post - and, I do not even have a fair opportunity to dispute it for how do you remember - better if the summons was issued on the spot]
In line with the policy of keeping wages low, Malaysia also do not have a Minimum Wage law in place... [India had Minimum Wage laws since 1940s...]
Developing Rich in Resources Malaysia should have resulted long ago in Malaysians enjoying a higher standard of living - but no....in fact, it is sad to be told that Billions have just disappeared... [See also earlier post that shows the facts about growing inequality in Malaysia...CAP : Resolve widening income disparity gap now]
When wages are just too low, more and more Malaysians will choose just to live a simple life - happy to survive. It was this cultural trait of Malays that forced the British to bring in workers for their Plantations, Tin Mines, etc... and like the British, the BN government rather than improving on wages and working conditions also chose the easy way out of getting workers from other poorer countries who were willing to work for these lower wages...
Like Malaysian workers, migrant workers also still being exploited...and we have to fight for justice for all workers...
If wages and income of Malaysians are not increased, it will be difficult for Malaysian households to pay higher wages to their employees, the domestic workers...
Most effected will be the poor and the middle-incomed families...
The government must, for the time being, reduce the cost of living - and for that we still need the subsidies in place. Taxation must also be reviewed, and we need to go for increased taxation of those who have higher incomes - the higher the income, the greater the percentage of taxes that one should be forced to pay...GST negates this principle and imposes taxes on all persons - the more you spend the more you pay...and this is very detrimental to the poor for suddenly cost of living has just gone up again..., and there is no increase in income...
Malaysian government, rather than pointing the finger of blame at themselves, happily blames others - and now the finger of blame is being pointed at migrant workers, and the government of their countries of origin...
Justice demands change in policy and practice - maybe even a change in government...BUT even new governments will be saddled by the mistakes already done by the UMNO-led BN government over the past 50 plus years...