Fewer Indonesian maids running away

Fewer Indonesian maids running away

SINGAPORE - Indonesian Embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono cannot help but grin when he sees the rows of empty beds in the embassy's shelter for runaway maids.

For the first time in years, the shelter, which has space for about 150 women, is not full. The reason, says Mr Sukmo, is pay.

In the past, maids got as little $10 a month during the first year of work - their salaries cut to repay employers who had to shell out over $3,000 to cover fees that the maids owed agents in Indonesian and Singapore.

The Indonesian government made changes to this practice last year, and maids now get at least $170 a month while paying off their loans. They take bank loans instead of getting employers to make an upfront payment, and can clear their debt within eight months.

The new rules also ensure that maids from the country are paid at least $450 a month. Agents' fees have also been cut to about $2,200, after reducing commissions charged by recruiters.

However, there have been hiccups.

The Straits Times reported last year that some Indonesian middlemen ask for "under the table" money. This cost is passed on to maids, leading to higher debt.

The changes have also seen higher agency fees for employers, who are now paying about $1,600, up from about $600 before.

Mr Sukmo said Jakarta will blacklist Singapore and Indonesian maid agencies which flout the rules. But he believes that the maids are happier because of the changes.

He said: "I think more maids are now motivated to work out their problems with their employers instead of running away."

As recently as last year, most of the maids in the shelter claimed they ran away because they could not get along with the employer.

But when probed by Mr Sukmo, the women revealed that they had felt unmotivated, because they had to wait for over a year before saving enough money to send home to their family.

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