Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indonesian Maids for Sale

News about female Indonesian citizens working as Maids/Housekeepers in Malaysia always seems to attract news reporters in indonesia.

Desi Anwar: ‘Indon’ Maids for Sale
Desi Anwar | November 03, 2012

Unlike some of my friends, who are more than ready to take up arms against neighboring Malaysia over some little flyer advertising “Indonesian maids for sale,” I’m inclined to view the offending material with a less uncharitable spirit. After all, it was not a product of diplomatic correspondence, nor was it aired as a 30-second spot commercial on national TV. It was just a piece of paper most likely produced by someone who probably copied the idea from an ad selling vacuum cleaners.

“Indonesian maids now on SALE!!!” The modest flyer screams. “Fast & Easy Application. Now your housework and cooking come easy. You can rest and relax.” The offer also comes with an attractive 40 percent discount and a cute little cartoon drawing of a maid complete with knotted headscarf and mop and bucket, much like you would see on Tom and Jerry.

Obviously this was done by someone who, despite a limited knowledge of English, understands the market and has access to what seems to be an abundant supply of the commodity (maids) to satisfy an existing demand (homemakers who can’t wait to rest and relax and have their housework and cooking come easy).

The hefty discount can only mean that the supplier can’t wait to offload the goods as quickly as possible, probably the supplies were smuggled in or didn’t come with the necessary papers. Which makes me suspect that rather than the culprit being Malaysian, it might have been street savvy, creative Indon — how Indonesians are referred to next door. We know that only Indons have the guts and are crafty enough to bend the rules and fiddle with the system wherever they go. In Malaysia, Indons are notorious for being thieving, trouble-making illegal migrants. After all, the country is one crazy democracy ... and the purveyors of maids because we do produce a lot of maids.

Many firms specialize in making money from “selling” maids. They can almost be classified as headhunters or employment agencies placing professionals. Instead, they entice uneducated, unskilled young women from the poor parts of the country who need to make money for their families but with little chance of getting work in their hometowns, and offering them to households overseas who find elbow grease beneath them.

These maids don’t provide a service, in that they work for set hours and then go home, but they are bound to the house 24 hours a day, paid a minimal wage and if they’re unlucky enough to have horrible employers, vulnerable to all sorts of mental and physical abuse.

Many of these placement agencies, especially the shady ones, are little more than human traffickers, often extorting a huge amount of money from these women with the promise of paid employment. Or, they’ll take a few months’ salary out of their wages as payment for the placement. Often, these women are abandoned before they reach their destinations, or their lives are at risk in the hands of smugglers plying leaky boats.

Here, we call these workers “heroes” to mask the fact that the country can’t provide them with jobs at home and because their remittances bring needed income to their families who would otherwise increase the country’s poverty rate. We are proud of the foreign dollars they bring, though we’re ashamed of what they stand for: low-skilled, abject and doing tasks that no respectable person would.

For middle-class city-dwellers, however well we treat them, at the end of the day they come and go with the sole purpose of cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking, babysitting and serving us hand and foot. We house and feed them, give them a monthly retainer and keep them at the back of the house.

In developed countries, unless you live in “Downton Abbey,” these duties belong to us. That’s why it’s often hard when expats have to go back home. Here, they have plenty of opportunity to rest and relax, because cooking and cleaning come easy.

Desi Anwar, a senior anchor at Metro TV, can be reached at or