PETALING JAYA: Tenaganita is remaining cautiously optimistic regarding the government’s announcement that it will allow employers to hire foreign domestic helpers directly from nine selected countries without going through an agent.
The announcement was made when Prime Minister Najib Razak tabled the RM280 billion Budget for 2018, his last before the next general election which must be called within the next eight months.
Speaking to FMT, Tenaganita executive director Glorene A Das said although the announcement was much welcomed, similar announcements had been made in the past without much follow through.
“We are quite happy about hearing that the cost to hire domestic workers will be reduced. It is a great step forward,” she said.
“However, based on our past experience, we see that after such statements are made, it ends up that the job is sourced to different people and we don’t want that.”
Glorene said it was also important for the government to provide clear comprehensive policies about how to go about recruiting directly from the nine countries involved.
“The issue with direct hiring is that the people who may have helped recruit the domestic workers could disappear, although we have not encountered anything as such.
“Therefore, there must be comprehensive policy development in terms of direct hiring and we want it to be presented in the form of a bilateral agreement (with the foreign governments), not a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).”
The nine source countries are: Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
A quick check with the Immigration Department’s official website however, lists only eight approved source countries, with Myanmar being the exception.
Glorene said despite the complications associated with direct hiring of foreign domestic helpers, Tenaganita has been calling for it for quite some time now.
“It’s good because going through recruiting agents does not only entail a high cost, it also sometimes opens the doors for the trafficking of workers.”
The latest data made available by the Malaysian Maid Employers’ Association (Mama) shows there are more than 250,000 registered domestic workers in Malaysia.
However, it also estimated that one out of every 20 maids will go missing, after running away from their employers.
The main reasons for domestic helpers disappearing were largely because of abuse by employers, poor working conditions, better opportunities elsewhere and a yearning for freedom.
Allegations of abuse involving domestic workers in Malaysia is nothing new.
In 2011, Indonesia lifted a ban imposed in 2009 on women going to Malaysia as domestic helpers following a string of abuse cases.
In May 2012, the then Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez told The Jakarta Post that accounts of abuse she heard led her to conclude that Malaysia did not do enough to protect migrant workers.
More recently in September, Tenaganita director Aegile Fernandez made a similar claim while the NGO was in the midst of drafting legislation that would protect domestic helpers in Malaysia.
She said there was a need for such legislation because the government did not provide any protection mechanisms for domestic helpers, otherwise known as maids.