JAKARTA - Indonesian domestic maids may return in big numbers to Malaysia under a proposed deal announced by the Malaysian and Indonesian governments yesterday.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said, after wide-ranging bilateral talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta, key private sector groups in both countries might be roped in again to handle the recruitment of maids.
Arrivals of Indonesian maids in Malaysia have dwindled after the government capped the cost structure of hiring the maids at RM4,511, well below the Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies' (Papa) proposed rate of RM7,500.
"I have agreed that the MoU (signed in Nov 2011 in Bali, Indonesia) on the cooperation in labour, especially with regard to domestic maids, be expanded to include the private sectors that represent both nations," he told a news conference at the presidential palace.
"An MoU should be signed between Papa and Apjati (its Indonesian counterpart -- Association of Indonesian Manpower Services).
"If both sides sign the MoU, I am confident that the number of Indonesian domestic maids in Malaysia can reach our desired levels.
"So far, only 513 maids have arrived in Malaysia under the current (government-to-government) mechanism."
Indonesia imposed a temporary freeze on the supply of maids to Malaysia on June 26, 2009, following reports of abuse by employers.
The freeze was lifted following an agreement between Najib and Susilo in December 2011.
Meanwhile, Apjati was optimistic that the latest arrangement agreed by the two leaders would help resolve the impasse on the arrival of foreign maids to Malaysia.
Najib and Susilo, who had an hour-long meeting, followed by their delegation meeting at their annual consultation, also discussed a host of other issues, including haze, transnational crime, student visas, trade and the marketing of palm oil.
Both leaders also spoke on the issue of spying following recent claims of an alleged American-led spying network in Asia, and Malaysia's initiative on the global movement of moderates.
Susilo said Najib has agreed to support Jakarta's move to galvanise ASEAN nations at the next ASEAN leaders' summit in Myanmar in April 2014 to reject spying within the ASEAN member states and from outside ASEAN.
The only ASEAN state implicated in the spying scandal so far is Singapore.
The annual consultation, the 10th in the series and the fourth between Najib and the Indonesian leader, has made much progress in bilateral relations in recent years, a fact acknowledged by both leaders.
"This has been a very productive mechanism," Najib said.
Eight Malaysian ministers and 19 Indonesian ministers attended yesterday's talks, underpinning the commitment by the two sides to take their relations to greater heights.
Later, Susilo and his wife hosted Najib and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, for lunch at Istana Negara.
Earlier, after their talks at Istana Merdeka in central Jakarta, Najib and Susilo witnessed the signing of two MoUs, one on youth and sports cooperation and the other on student visa programmes.
Najib also spoke on the need to step up bilateral trade and investments to drive the economic growth of the two resource-rich nations.
Both Malaysia and Indonesia are the world's top palm oil producers and are key oil and gas producers.
He said there should be a major shift in trade ties to help achieve the targeted bilateral trade volumes of US$30 billion (RM98.3 billion) by 2015, up from US$20-$23 billion this year.
He said trade ministers from both countries were finding ways to step up trade, including by removing some non-tariff barriers and mutually recognising halal certifications produced by both countries.
On palm oil, both sides agreed to step up bilateral cooperation to ensure more stable prices and jointly fight the anti-palm lobby in Western countries.
On the perennial haze problem caused by forest fires in Sumatra, Susilo said Indonesia and Malaysia would embark on a "concrete" cooperation to deal with the problem.
He did not, however, say when Indonesia would sign the ASEAN agreement on trans-boundary haze pollution.
Speaking to reporters later, Education Minister II Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said the MoU on student pass/stay permit and visas for higher education would allow Indonesian students studying in Malaysia to be given a two-year pass, instead of just one year currently, and vice-versa.
There are now more than 10,000 Indonesians studying in Malaysia, and some 5,000 Malaysian students studying in Indonesia.