On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Look at both sides of the issue


This is not the first time Indonesia has made such a threat and it won’t be the last. It has become rather predictable and soon, potential employers would be told that they have to pay more for their maids.

New wages and conditions would be set as a way out to ensure a good supply of these maids. I may be presumptuous but I think it all boils down to money.

The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maids Agencies has seized the opportunity to suggest that the Government makes future employers of maids attend a one-day course on their responsibilities. Its president Datuk Raja Zulkepley Dahalan said this was to reduce the cases of maid abuse – for a fee, of course.

Employers found themselves being abused for the past one week following a few high-profile cases involving maids, a socialite and some rocks in Ambalat, which most Malaysians have not even heard of.

No doubt there have been a few cases of mentally-ill Malaysian employers who have abused their maids but they have been rightfully charged and punished.

But these are isolated cases; with over 200,000 maids, not counting the over one million foreign workers here, there are bound to be such incidents. But generally, we have been good employers.

Some non-governmental organisations, including Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita, have expressed disgust and surprise at the reaction of Malaysians who have opposed the one off day proposal for their maids.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam, who made the proposal, however, seems to have a better grasp on the pulse of the nation, saying he was not surprised.

An SMS poll carried out by The Star indicated that over three-quarters of the respondents did not agree with the proposal.

While the media has often highlighted the extreme cases of abused maids, little has been reported about the daily problems faced by employers.

These cases may seem minor in comparison, even irrelevant to these NGOs, but they have been traumatic to the employers.

You place your trust in a maid, whom you regard as a family member, for years and then you find out that those little coins and notes you left in your trousers have accumulated to become a huge figure – and it is a case of finders keepers.

Expensive clothes have disappeared because of our forgetfulness and reliance on our maids – only to find their way to the maid’s room which we never visit because we respect her privacy and space.

Elderly folk left at home have been pinched and bullied by maids but how much of this has been reported by the Indonesian press?And have they seen the video clips of maids who kicked children repeatedly while their employers are away at work?

A good friend of mine, who installed CCTV at his home so he could monitor the movement of his maid from the office, narrated his shock when he found his maid constantly looking at the mirror while talking and laughing to herself.

The maid also burnt paper as in a religious ritual and got his children to consume it. The last straw was when he found love letters addressed to her “boyfriend” – the former Indonesian president Suharto!

The maid was sent back to the agency as it was obvious that she needed psychiatric treatment.

Dialogue with employers

We have been talking about the rights of maids without listening to what employers have to say. With due respect, Dr Subramaniam can expect an earful if he conducts a dialogue with employers.

The concerns of employers are genuine and practical, as a result of their experiences.

It is easy for some self-appointed do-gooders to be critical of Malaysian employers, portraying them as having little respect for human rights. But what about the rights of long-suffering employers?

Generally, most employers compensate their maids for not having off days, and agreements are made among the employers, the agencies and the maids, often with the consent of their parents.

Mostly, the parents of these maids prefer that their daughters earn money without getting into trouble.

From sexually transmitted diseases to eloping with Indonesian construction workers to sex romps in the employers’ rooms, there is no end to such stories if the Indonesian press cares to do balanced reporting.

Admittedly, Malaysia may not be the best paying employer. A maid is paid about RM500 to RM600 here while Singapore offers RM800 to RM900 and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, they get much more. But the difference is that most maids in Malaysia get to have their own room while in Singapore and Hong Kong, where they work in cramped flats, they often sleep in the living room or kitchen.

The similarities in food, culture and language between Malaysia and Indonesia also make the working environment in this country easier for the Indonesians. The fact that there are so many Indonesians staying here illegally, especially in Sabah, seeking to make Malaysia their home speaks volumes of the attractiveness of this country and its people.

The presence of Indonesian maids has made our lives so much easier and better; our quality of life has improved because of the double income from the husband and wife.

It also proves that non-Muslims and Muslims can live together as a family, adapting to each other and learning each other’s languages.

As in any sector or profession, there would be black sheep and nasty employers but the majority of Malaysians are decent bosses.

So, let not emotion rule at the expense of Malaysian employers. Let the Indonesian politicians and press separate the emotions over Manohara and Ambalat from that over the issue of the maids.