Indonesian maids to get a day off a week, plus access to passports

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2009, 12:00am

Indonesian maids working in Malaysia have finally been granted the right to a day off every week and free access to their passports, under a new deal announced by Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian authorities hope the measures will calm Indonesian anger about the treatment of its citizens. About 80 per cent of Malaysia's 350,000 legal foreign helpers are Indonesian, and there are believed to be a further 80,000 undocumented Indonesian helpers.

The new rules were announced late on Wednesday but will only come into force once the appropriate legislation can be amended.

The issue has sparked periodic tension between the two countries. In June, Indonesia temporarily suspended Malaysian recruitment of its nationals as maids to underline its case. Domestic helpers of other nationalities are not covered by the new arrangement.

The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies, whose members recruit Indonesian maids, said they supported the move even though employers were likely to be unhappy.

'The weekly rest day is part of international law and an important human right of individuals, and we must respect this provision,' association president Zulkepley Dahalan said.

'All stakeholders are in agreement that a weekly rest day is long overdue. Our association will hold dialogues with Malaysian employers to explain the need to comply with the law.'

Nearly 80 per cent of 9,000 employers who responded to a newspaper's online poll in July said they were against giving maids a weekly rest day. Most also wanted to retain the right to hold their maids' passports to prevent them from running away.

A Ministry of Home Affairs official said that raising the minimum salary for Indonesian maids from M$600 (HK$1,300) to M$650 was 'a possibility' once a new memorandum of understanding was agreed with Jakarta.

The M$600 minimum was set in January, but wages can go as low as M$350 for undocumented maids. The minimum is not enforced by law, but via the administrative requirements on recruitment agencies.

Human rights activists welcomed the new deal but said the benefits should be extended to all maids working in the country.

'Nearly 80 per cent of maids are from Indonesia but the rest come from other poor Asian countries and should be accorded the same new deal,' said Agile Fernandez, senior officer with Tenaganita, an NGO representing migrant workers.

'All maids should be treated equally. Unless it is strictly enforced, most employers are unlikely to give a weekly day off. Some are already offering extra cash in lieu.'

Negotiations for a comprehensive new agreement between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur regarding foreign helpers were continuing, a Human Resources Ministry official said.