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Malaysian employers look to hiring Indonesian domestic workers again, but fees remain a concern

KUALA LUMPUR (CNA) – It has been a stressful period for Tasha Prasheela Chandran, 36, as her family enquired high and low on hiring a foreign domestic helper for her mother-in-law.

“I have not personally hired a domestic helper, but my mother-in-law has hired one to help her over the past 10 years,” Tasha Prasheela, a lawyer, said.

Her mother-in-law’s last domestic worker, an Indonesian lady, had left in November 2021.

Tasha Prasheela and her mother-in-law are not alone, as many Malaysian families rely on domestic workers to help with household duties.

On April 1, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the recruitment and protection of Indonesian domestic helpers in Malaysia.

The MoU was signed by Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Saravanan and Indonesia’s Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah, and the signing was witnessed by Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The new MoU marks a change for the domestic helper labour market in Malaysia, where a freeze on foreign workers intake was enforced since June 2020. Only the construction, plantation and agriculture sectors were allowed to hire foreign workers.

Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the MOU signing. PHOTO: CNA

The new MoU promises improved and more comprehensive protections for Indonesian domestic helpers, but also appears to increase the costs of hiring one.

One key stipulation in the MoU is the use of a single channel or ‘One Channel System’ for the recruitment and placement of Indonesian domestic helpers.

The new MoU also stipulates a number of protections, from a minimum basic wage of RM1,500 (USD355) per month for the domestic helper to eight days of annual leave per year for the duration of a two-year contract.

In addition, a ‘one helper per household’ rule will now apply as there have been instances of employers shuttling their domestic employees between multiple households. The Malaysian minister Saravanan also announced that the hiring cost structure for Indonesian helpers would be reviewed every three months.

One aspect of the new memorandum which has raised concerns for potential employers looking to hire a new maid is costs.

In the previous MoU which ran from 2013 until 2016, recruitment fees were at a maximum of RM7,800. The new MoU will cap fees at RM15,000.

But recruitment agencies in Malaysia have been receiving enquiries even before the MoU signing, as many domestic helpers have returned home during the two years Malaysia moved in and out of lockdowns. Some of their contracts have also expired and the employers could not find a replacement due to the hiring freeze.