Hong Kong will be a more family-friendly city ... thanks to Widodo
Indonesian leader’s policy of ending the export of domestic helpers means it’s now up to our government to come up with measures that help families help themselves
Indonesia has announced it will start phasing out the hiring of domestic helpers to work in foreign countries from next year. This is a humane and economically wise policy, though many obstacles stand in its way.
It will also be good for those places affected, including Hong Kong. It will, for example, help Hongkongers to wean themselves off their maid addiction. Our government in turn will have to introduce more realistic maternity and paternity leave and provide better-subsidised childcare and kindergarten education. Companies will have to offer more progressive policies such as flexible work hours, better paid leave and other family-friendly measures to help and retain valuable workers.
The policy under President Joko Widodo is not new, though it was confined mainly to the Middle East last year following reports of ill treatment of some helpers and the execution of two Indonesian maids. Now it looks set to extend to almost 30 countries that import the most numbers of domestic helpers.
Existing overseas Indonesian workers will not be affected. Those who wish to work overseas as domestic helpers after 2017 may do so provided they train and are certified for more specialised services such as elderly care and childcare.
Indonesia has great potential to be the next economic powerhouse of Asia. It has a young population, with almost 45 per cent under the age of 24. Its economy has been growing at rates of 5 to 6 per cent in the past decade, though it has started to slow recently. And it has made the difficult transition to full democracy without sliding back into militarism and authoritarianism like Thailand and the Philippines.
Of course, its economy must expand fast enough to provide better pay and meaningful work at home to keep its valuable human capital without exporting young women as cheap labour to other countries.
For those in Hong Kong who worry about not having maids to boss around, they can sleep easy. Current helpers can continue to work overseas. But hopefully, their supply will dry up over time.
Our decades-old exploitation of foreign maids has let the government off the hook of providing childcare and family welfare while enabling companies to exploit us like wage slaves with long working hours and few family benefits.
Things will have to change when there are no more maids to exploit.