Thursday, 19 May 2016

Indonesia plans to stop sending new live-in maids abroad

It wants maids to live separately from bosses; move to be made in phases from as early as next year
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

Indonesia says it will stop sending new live-in maids abroad from as early as next year. Its authorities want domestic workers to live separately from their employers in dormitories, work regular hours, and get public holidays and days off.

The Indonesian Ministry of Manpower's director for the protection and placement of Indonesian migrant workers abroad, Mr Soes Hindharno, told The Straits Times that, in turn, employers will get "better-quality" workers. They will be certified in Indonesia and trained to excel in specific skills, such as cooking, childcare and eldercare.

"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."

The move will be made in phases and will first require meetings with the authorities in receiving countries, including Singapore.

Mr Soes said the initiative will affect only new workers. Maids already working in households abroad who are happy with their employers can extend their visas.

The move is part of Indonesian President Joko Widodo's plan to professionalise informal employment. A road map to stop sending Indonesian maids abroad by next year was announced by the previous administration in 2012, amid worries about maids being mistreated.

Indonesia is the biggest source country for maids in Singapore, with around 125,000 working here.

Concerns have been raised in Indonesia about the working conditions faced by live-in maids working abroad, and progress on addressing them has not been made fast enough, according to Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K. Jayaprema.

The association has been working closely with the Indonesian authorities to address these concerns. Ms Jayaprema said: "We also want to ensure quality domestic workers can continue to come to Singapore."

Agents said they support formalised training, but logistical issues like lodging, travel and housing will need to be settled if maids live out.

"It might be difficult to get all employers on board," said Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin, adding that some might be concerned about unpredictable delays during maids' commutes.

One employer, a banker who gave her name as Madam Molly, 53, said she would prefer to have a helper at night as she sometimes works late. "She doesn't have to do anything after dinner, but it's just good to have an adult at home with the kids," said the single mother of two.

Mr Jolovan Wham of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics said caregivers could have formal shifts, adding: "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."

A spokesman for Singapore's Manpower Ministry said it had not received any information from Indonesia about the request for live-out maids, and the live-in requirement is not peculiar to Singapore, as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia have the same requirement.

"Singapore does not condone mistreatment of foreign domestic workers and has taken errant parties to task," said the spokesman.

Indonesian maid Aisyah, 27, who goes by only one name and has been living in Singapore for six years, was happy to hear about the possibility of a live-out arrangement. "My situation is okay but I have some friends who say they need help but cannot get it because they are always at home," she said.

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

Live-out maids 'will lead to more costs, issues'
Employers raise concerns over Indonesia's move to have maids live separately from them
By Aw Cheng Wei and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 19 May 2016

Maid employers in Singapore have raised concerns about plans by Indonesia to stop sending new "live-in" maids overseas.

The change, meant to "better protect" its helpers from being exploited, could kick in as early as next year, an Indonesian Manpower Ministry official said on Sunday.

However, many employers here told The Straits Times that they fear it could lead to higher costs and cause other problems.

Madam Fong Choye Har, 52, who works in accounting, is "unwilling to cover the extra costs of food, lodging and transport". She said: "We can already provide all this, so why would we spend (extra)?"

Bank executive Jazreen Tan, 32, said that both she and her husband, a real estate agent, have irregular schedules and that makes it difficult for her to be without a maid at night. The mother of a two-year-old said: "My clients might decide to meet me at the last minute. No one might be around to take care of our boy."

Employers also fear that maids could fall into bad company or commit crimes if they live elsewhere.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, foreign domestic workers must live with their employers at the addresses stated on their work permits. A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said "exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis when the employer is temporarily not in Singapore", but added that "such requests are rare".

However, one employer here, a social worker who gave his name only as Mr Pang, admitted breaking the law to give his family's helper some time off. The Filipino visits the family of six to cook and clean from 8am to 7pm from Monday to Saturday but lives elsewhere. She has been with them for seven years.

Mr Pang, 36, said: "Living in their workplaces can be stressful... They need a mental break, not just physical. Allowing her to stay out is how we can avoid taking advantage of her availability."

Another employer, a 60-year-old marine company director who gave his name only as Mr Esmail, does not mind having live-out maids as long as "it remains less expensive to hire Indonesian helpers than to hire helpers from other countries like the Philippines and Myanmar".

"I value my privacy, so I like the idea of hiring a helper who isn't staying with me," he said.

Employers are allowed to house their maids in a temporary dormitory when they go on holiday.

Mr Tay Khoon Beng, who owns Best Home Employment Agency, runs a 250-bed facility called Well Care Home in Woodlands for trainee maids, those who are being transferred, and those whose employers are on holiday. "The place is really meant for short stays," he said, noting that the dormitory is always full.

He shares operating fees with four agencies. Agents must inform MOM when a maid moves in.

Besides wanting maids to live separately from their employers in dormitories and to work regular hours, Indonesia also plans to formalise maids' training in areas such as cooking, childcare and eldercare.

This move is part of efforts by Indonesia to improve the welfare and status of its overseas workers after cases of abuse and non-payment of salaries arose.

It banned maids from working in Malaysia in 2009 but lifted the rule two years later after an agreement between the countries on better protection measures.

A ban on new Indonesian domestic workers to around 20 Middle East countries has been in place since last year.

Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised in 2012 to provide one million jobs by 2013 to encourage Indonesian women working overseas as maids to return home. The programme did not take off.

Indonesian maid Sarinah, 34, said: "It will be good working office hours, but if we have to rent a room and pay for our own supper, we will have to spend more."

Additional reporting by Cheryl Lin

'No new live-in maids' a worry
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Indonesia has said it loud and clear: No more new live-in maids abroad from as early as next year.

The news has raised eyebrows in Singapore, where the 125,000 Indonesian maids employed have formed an integral part of busy households.

Indonesia said it is prepared for brickbats and boycotts from receiving countries, which may look for labour supply elsewhere rather than deal with alternative housing issues and draw up fresh labour contracts. Jakarta is aware that a lot is at stake, which is why the move is being done in phases and the authorities hope for a "win-win solution" through bilateral meetings, Indonesian Manpower Ministry official Soes Hindharno told The Straits Times.

Currently, seven million Indonesians work abroad, 60 per cent of whom are maids in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Slowing the worker outflow could break the rice bowls of Indonesia's poor and uneducated.

The country could also potentially lose billions of dollars in worker remittances, which the World Bank put at US$10.5 billion (S$14.5 billion) last year. That is around 1 per cent of the country's total economic output.

Mr Soes said Indonesia wants to raise the social image of its people and better protect its workers. The government wants to send fewer but quality workers abroad and hence is training workers in specific skills such as cooking and childcare.

"We don't want to be known as a producer of cattle-class workers forever," he said.

If Jakarta goes ahead with its plan, it would be the only nation insisting its maids be housed separately. Labour-receiving countries then might need to harmonise their laws. In Singapore, for instance, a maid has to live at the residence of the employer.

Indonesian leaders have been talking about ending the practice of sending maids abroad since 2012, so it remains to be seen how the plan will pan out this time. Mr Soes said: "We are serious about doing this."

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