KUALA LUMPUR : People smugglers are increasingly paying rural Indonesians cash to persuade them to work abroad as maids, unlike in the past when women had to pay exorbitant fees to secure the jobs, campaigners said.
The change has been driven in part by demand for Indonesian domestic helpers. The payments are also a way of persuading women’s families, who may be reluctant to let them go after a series of high-profile Indonesian maid abuse cases abroad.
Indonesia is a major source of domestic workers for places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Middle East. Most women wanting the overseas jobs used to have to pay hundreds of dollars to secure a placement through an agent.
However, rights groups said in recent years it has become common for smugglers to offer women or their families 2 million to 9 million rupiah ($150-675) to get them to work abroad.
“It is disguised as pocket money,” said Endang Susilowati, founder of the Panca Karsa Foundation in West Nusa Tenggara province, one of the areas in Indonesia that sends the most maids abroad.
“These cash payments are used as an incentive for them to go abroad,” said Susilowati, whose foundation helps migrant workers.
The cost of hiring an Indonesian maid remains relatively low, while countries like the Philippines that have traditionally sent maids abroad have been demanding higher salaries and greater protection for their citizens.
Mulyadi, from rights group Migrant Care, said the cash incentives trend has accelerated after Indonesia in 2015 banned new maids from going to the Middle East after a string of abuse cases.
The ban has not stopped the flow of women heading to the region, but it has forced traffickers to find ways around the prohibition, including offering cash.
“People are more aware of issues like labor exploitation now, so cash is offered,” said Mulyadi. “It is a way to get the family’s consent, but essentially it is a way to bribe them to say yes.”
But Mulyadi said the cash upfront is often an advance that is deducted from the maids’ monthly salaries for up to six months – something they are not told when they accept it.
Campaigners say many women are tricked and become trafficking victims as they are not told they are to become maids when they are sent abroad. In some cases they end up exploited, overworked and underpaid.
More than half of the 21 million victims of forced labor globally are found in Asia Pacific, trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave, according to the International Labor Organisation.