Indonesia moves to improve maid treatment

Singapore’s busy population often struggles to raise children without help. Source: YouTube

Jakarta says it will stop sending new live-in maids overseas from next year as it looks to ensure domestic employees live in their own dormitories away from their employers, work regular hours and get public holidays and days off.

Soes Hindharno, the Ministry of Manpower’s director for Indonesian migrant workers, was quoted in the Straits Times saying that employers would get “better-quality” employees. He said Indonesia would train maids in specific skills like cooking, childcare and care for the elderly.

“They are also free to do other chores, but don’t penalise them if they don’t do too well in areas outside their skill set. We want better protection for our workers. If they are always indoors, we don’t know if they have worked overtime. They should be compensated for that,” Soes said.

Indonesia provides the largest source maids for Singapore, with around 125,000 employed in the city-state.

However, the number of registered Indonesian maids working in Malaysia has fallen with 50,000 Indonesians among a total of 200,000 domestic helpers, according to The Star daily.

The programme is being completed in several stages and will involve meetings with the authorities in several countries, including Singapore.

Soes said only new workers would be affected and maids already working happily overseas could extend their visas.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said he planned to professionalise informal employment, amid repeated news stories of mistreatment.

The Association of Employment Agencies in Singapore president K Jayaprema said there had been work with Indonesia to address concerns. She said: “We also want to ensure quality domestic workers can continue to come to Singapore.”

Agents in Singapore said training would be easier to arrange than travel and housing for maids who want to live away from their employers.

“It might be difficult to get all employers on board,” Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin said. He added that employers might be concerned about unpredictable delays during maids’ commutes.

A 53-year-old banker and single mother of two, giving the name Madam Molly, said she would prefer to have a helper at night as she sometimes she had to work late. “She doesn’t have to do anything after dinner, but it’s just good to have an adult at home with the kids.”

Jolovan Wham of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics said maids should have formal shifts. He said: “If where you live and work is the same, working hours are not clearly defined, and being socially isolated, domestic workers can’t ask for help.”

Indonesian maid Aisyah, 27, who has worked in Singapore for six years, was positive about the idea of living away from her employer. “My situation is OK but I have some friends who say they need help but cannot get it because they are always at home,” she explained.

“Living outside will give us more free time, more friends but some might prefer to stay at home if employers treat them like family.”