‘Maid’ in Indonesia

I am blessed because I have a good maid. She is a Fillipino. She came to my house in the mid-80s, when my third child (2nd daughter) was born. This child is now in her final year of medical course in Queensland. So my maid has worked for me more than 20 years.

Of course I have to go through the hassle of getting work permit renewed every year ( even though the hasssle is lessened by having the maid agency doing this for me for a fee every year). Every few years, my maid has to go to her Embassy to renew her passport.

According to the agency, she is the longest serving maid from that particular agency which has been in existence for almost 30 years.

Initially when she came , I have a rather big family. My aged parents were both staying with me, and I have 2 other kids then. It was after she worked a few more years that I had my fourth child.  So initially she had to take care of the house, 4 kids, 2 old persons . Luckily for her,  both of parents were active and mobile right up to the day that they passed away. My mum used to teach her cook all the dishes that she knew and my mum was a very good cook. My maid has indeed become a good cook after more than 2 decades in my family.

She has to do household chores like cleaning, but since our priority is for her to look after the children ( the younger ones since the older two did not need much looking after at teir age and my parents helped out looking after the children too), we usually left it to her to do things at her own pace.Things could be very sloppy at times, and house could be quite messy, but she took care of the two younger kids well. And that is what is important for us.

Her work load becomes lessened as my parents passed away one by one and my children grew older and older.

Despite many short comings ( she has broken so many of our things that we have lost counts-but humans are fallible, aren’t we all?), she has helped us to tie over the difficult periods when my children were small and my parents old. Now that there are only 2 of us left and household work is now much less than before, we have decided that she can stay as long as she wants, as she has by the many long years of service, rightfully earned herself a place in our family, and there are many things that my younger daughter would confide in her that she would not even discuss with us.

Many people have asked us how we can maintain such long relationship with her. Just like in any relationship, there has to be much give and take on both sides.

Now to digress a bit.

Have you all heard about the joke of a person with a right eye cataract going to see an eye specialist , only to be told by the specialist that he operates only on left eye? Or imagine a piano teacher that teaches a student to play the keyoard with his right hand and asks him to seek someone else to teach his lefthand play?

or a hospital nurse that will only serve you medicines and take your temperatures but refuses to helps clean you or accede to your request to help you get up since her job description does not entail helping patients?

or a restaurant worker that will only take your oder but refuses to answer to your request to clean the table  or to bring the bills?

or a maid that does only one chore?

Most of the people that employs maids need them to help in household chores, and that normally entails cleaning, cooking, and washing. Some may requires them to help to look after children too. Maids are not superman, so employers do indeed need to space out these chores so as not to overload them with work. And when things get too busy, employers have a duty to do some of the chores too.

As I have mentioned above, in any relationship, icluding that of employer-maid, there must be certain give and take. employers too must look after the health of their maids; this should include physical as well as mental health. Most of them would get depressed on and off ; this is understandable as they have to leave their loved ones at home to come and live in a totally alien environment and work.

Most maids are simple souls and not very highly educated. They need time to learn new things, especially how to operate modern gadgets. they also need time to learn how things are being done in the bosses’ homes. It is not an easy task. It calls for plenty of patience and understanding.

Having said that, I think it is really unreasonable to limit a maid’s chore so strictlly that one will only look after the kids and nothing else , another will look after the old parents and so on and so forth.

I find the Indonesia authority’s demand that each maid can strictly do one chore very amusing. It is like shutting their own door for the maids’ markets.

Under the proposal, if a couple needs maids to look after their kids and their aged parents, do household chores like cleaning and cooking and washing, they must be prepared to employ 4 maids. And that defeats the purpose of employing a helper to do domestic chores.The husband or the wife might as well quit job and stay at home to be housewife or house husband, since it would be economically not feasible to employ 4 maids, house them, and feed them.

Who would then employ the Indonesia maids? perhaps only multimillionaires can do so. But not everyone that needs a maid is a multimillionaire.

It is like a compuer company telling prospective customers that they need one computer to do emailing and another to doo wordprocessing and yet another to store their photos and music. It will only result in the company losing market shares and eventually folding up.

It is like the fable of the person who kills the goose for the golden eggs.


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AcHoo
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 09:53:56

    Actually the same surgeon can do both eyes except the cost doubles. So it is with the maids, they expect more but whether they have gone about in the right way is another matter.
    That can be expected if you leave the negotiation to politicians. They real problem is the way maid recruitment is being managed. Like most things in Malaysia this represent another way to collected unjustified rent. They people who actually managed are forced to cheat and in the end the maids and their employers become the victims.


  2. Phua Kai Lit
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 10:21:04

    Dear Dr Hsu

    She is like one of those “black and white amahs” of the old days
    who are trusted and almost full members of the employer’s family.


  3. Kenny
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 11:27:27

    Golden eggs, Dr, Hsu? I think not. The core of the matter is that Indonesian maids no longer find working in Malaysia attractive. Hence the Indonesian govt has a take it or leave it attitude.

    Indonesia is progressing rapidly in the post-Suharto era. Malaysia’s wages have been stagnant for the past 20 years. My nephew just started working in a bank as a fresh graduate. His pay is RM1800. This is what they get 20 years ago. Right now we are expecting their maids’ pay to stagnant with us.

    The bitter truth is that Indonesia is outpacing us. We can say this is the transition period. In another few years there will be no more maids from Indonesia. Look further and the flow of maids may reverse.


  4. CYC
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 13:35:59


    Spot on.Can’t agree more.

    On top of that, who are the one in control of maids agency? From Megat Junid to the present I don’t know who, these agencies appeared to be gold mine. Any negotiation will prioritize “their” interest first before the general public. The same goes to the hike of illegal foreigners working in Malaysia. It is not that they can’t solve the problem but rather their stake cannot be compromised as it will hurts their lavish lifestyle. Therefore so many China dolls here to legitimize Ng Yen Yen’s good performance of attracting increased tourists arrival.


  5. Richard Loh
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 13:57:45

    I think the ‘strictly do one chore’ is misunderstood by both sides. The statement should be one maid per household doing the chores of that particular named household. Many do not know these are happening.

    1) Maid sharing: The maid will do all the chores in one household and later taken to another close relatives home to do the same.

    2) As maid for household & business: This is usually the eatery outlets, hawkers and some offices. The maid has to wake up early, complete the household chores, then taken to help in the business, like cleaning plates, serving customers etc or cleaning the employer offices. At night the maid has to make preparation for next day business, all the necessary washing before retiring to bed.

    I guess many maids have returned home & lodged complain with their authority. Employers must not overstressed the maids, if engaged as house maid, means just doing the chores within the house and no where else. If employed for business, employers have to follow the labour laws.

    Good employer good maid, Good employer bad maid, Bad employer good maid, Bad employer bad maid….hard to get a good combination!


  6. Steven Tan
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 14:26:45

    One of the poorest village in Indonesia (Where we get most of our maids from), just had a big garment plant as an investor, giving the locals RM460/month excluding benefits. For Malaysia to attract Indonesian maids, we need to give them at least double the salary, which would be around RM1200.

    This is exactly what the Indonesian government is telling us, if you want the maid to do 3/4 tasks, the salary is RM1200 + 1 day off, and you want them to do 4/4 tasks, it’s RM1500 + 1 day off.

    When Indonesian maids go to other countries, they will be trained by the local agencies i.e. Singapore, Thailand etc. When they come to Malaysia, our agencies pocketed the money absolutely and thus close to nil in training. Hence, our public have a different perception of the education level of maids.

    Malaysians should start behaving like developed nations, where having maids is an extremely expensive privilege. Maybe we should start calling our domestic helpers as house keepers and butlers rather than maids. This would truly reflect the cost and give them the necessary respect.


  7. BeWildered
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 15:05:31

    A few things have taken place which resulted in the current situation with Indonesian maid.
    1. Like several gentlement has mentioned above, the economic development in Indonesia has greatly ironed in the last 10 years. Standard of living has improved also, in relative terms. Hence, Malaysia has become a less attractive place Fo r employment.
    2. Many cases of abuse have taken place and some of these were quite heinous. These cases have got the attention of the nationalist movement in Indonesia and the government has to take some measuresnto to protect their citizens.
    3. Other countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong of China, Taiwan, and countries in middle east are alternative places of employment than Malaysia.

    The Indonesian government stipulated condition of one maid one choir is a polite way tell Malaysia to fly kite as far as maids are concerned.

    Malaysia has become an country of export for executives to countries like China. Malaysian executives are very attractive we they are multi lingual, hard working and lower price compared to the arrogant Singaporean executives. Malaysian executives are in high demand in China and elsewhere. 15 years from now, Malaysia will start to export maids to other countries as employment cannot cope with population growth.


  8. A Single Vote
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 15:51:24

    Each time there’s a breakthrough in the negotiations something funny crops up, with the last ‘single chore maids’ being the most ludicrous.(gotta give them an ‘A’ for imagination) And notice also the latest proposed agency fees, so low like those of so many years back, employees oh so happy for a while, but then no decent agency in the country willing to agree to it.
    Wait, wait, don’t worry, someone will come to the rescue, to protect the poor abused maids, to protect the employers, the government that cares, will now come up with a list of limited number of agencies which will solve all your problems. Hurray, all maid problems solved!!!
    (Of course, no other agencies will be allowed to bring in maids except these select few)
    I know, even the missus said I’ve got a warped mind but who wouldn’t, being so used to being robbed each day by those parasites.


  9. CHEW EL
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 19:04:52

    In developed countries, CEO and senior managers have to make their own coffee, photo-copy/print document, self-drive/walk/catch bus to their workplace.

    In Malaysia, CEO and senior managers in both private and public sectors have private secretary, tea lady, office boy and personal driver.


  10. Taikohtai
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:18:19

    Australia too have a one maid, one chore policy too.
    The maid who washes my dishes is called Ms Electrolux, from Germany.
    The maid who washes my clothes is called Ms Whirlpool, a local sheila.
    The maid who irons my clothes is Ms Philips, from China.
    The maid who vacuums my floor is Ms Dyson, from USA.
    The maid who cooks for me is Ms Blanco, from Italy.
    And the maids who drive me around are Ms Mitsubishi, Ms Honda and Ms Camry, all from Japan.
    And finally, no, my understanding wife is never jealous of my special relationships with all my maids and we all live happily under one roof and sometimes, even in the same room!


  11. Wave33
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 23:31:31

    It is a polite way of saying “Go Fly Kite”.

    I could really understand too, the lowest grade of maid comes to Malaysia. It is because of the low IQ, they can only do one chore. I think, one of the reason of maid abuses, is low IQ. It really gets into your nerves, like pulling hair from your scalp when you are confronted with a maid whom could not understand even with repeated instructions. Already stress at work and at home kena stress again from the maid. Even saying so, the communicator is always at fault, it is never the receiver. Malaysian has to learn to be uneducated to educate the uneducated.

    You give peanuts, you get monkey.


  12. Li Li Fa
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 19:16:19

    Ambulating between those ‘electronics smart’ maids and of the ‘low end’ graded human maids, one can’t help but to think seriously about our Minister of HR’s comment the other day that the time will come for Malaysians to do their own chores and not depend on foreign maids.

    These foreign maids will in due course short in coming, highly priced and eventually demand will exceed their supply, leaving the locals with no choice but to ‘beg, steal and borrow’ their maids in the most creative way possible.

    It is funny that maids from China are not wanted here, as there is a general notion that there may arise opportunities for the Malaysian males to over step their marital boundr.

    The other day, a group of Vietnamese maids were found hurdled in a small house, allegedly mistreated by their agents. They were later sent home in tears flowing buckets. The Cambodian and Laotian maids were not well treated either. No hope of any Thai, Indian or Sri Lankan maids.

    So this boils down to the reality that Malaysians will have to come up with their own maids or be the maids themselves, and they shall be called, ‘Maids in Malaysia’.

    It may sound riduculous, unthinktable and downright inconsiderate, but it may well be the time for the locals to taste their own medicine.


  13. Phua Kai Lit
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 09:15:05

    “Mr Roboto” works fine in my house. 🙂

    Mr Roboto is a floor cleaning robot made by a South Korean company.

    It cannot dust furniture though !


  14. Kenny
    Mar 28, 2012 @ 16:16:59

    I agree with our HR Minister that Malaysians should get used to not having maids. With our stagnated income and other countries moving forward there will soon be few countries we can source maids from. Don’t be surprised if Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar pull ahead of us one day. Forget about the risk of marital infidelity. Do maids from China even want to work here for our maid’s pay?


  15. Roseline
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 11:00:26

    Hi Dr Hsu, do you have problem getting her back after her vacation from kampung? What kinda documents shud i prepare to make sure she get through the immigration?


  16. Dr Hsu
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 11:11:04

    I have no problem since my agent handles her permit and all other official requirement.. I think you may need a re-entry permit of sort, other than a valid work permit.


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