A potential ban on Indonesian maids working overseas will have a major impact on Singapore, which depends heavily on the country for domestic help, said maid agents here.
There are about 125,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore, based on Indonesian embassy estimates, making up about half of the 218,300-strong domestic worker population here.
"Indonesia has been a good and reliable source country for domestic workers for so many years. The impact will be huge," said Shirley Ng, owner of Orange Employment Agency.
"A potential ban is serious. If it happens, the maid industry will be affected badly," said Gary Chin, owner of Nation Employment, Singapore's biggest maid agency.
Singapore maid agents were reacting to Indonesian President Joko Widodo's comments - made last Friday during political party Hanura's national congress in Solo, Central Java - that he wants to stop Indonesian women from working abroad as maids, and better protect the rights of overseas workers.
This is not the first time that an Indonesian president has spoken out about restricting Indonesian women from working as maids overseas.
In 2012, Mr Joko's predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, promised to provide one million jobs by 2013 to encourage Indonesian women working as maids abroad to return to the country. The initiative did not take off.
The number of Indonesian maids coming here to work has been rising. In 2012, there were 100,000 women here, but that rose to 125,000 last year.
Still, maid agents say that the latest statement reflects a growing move to protect Indonesian women who go abroad to earn money.
In November, Indonesian Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said Jakarta does not aim to impose a complete ban on maids working abroad.
Rather, the authorities want to ensure that the workers are properly trained as babysitters or caregivers.
Mr Chin said he interprets Mr Joko's comments as a push by Jakarta to send higher skilled maids overseas.
"Indonesia wants to stop sending lowly-educated, unskilled domestic workers from going abroad. Instead, it wants to send maids who are better trained and who command higher salaries," added Mr Chin.
What is likely to happen is not an outright ban but a drop in Indonesian maids coming here, said maid agents.
"Indonesian officials will tighten the recruitment process to make sure that the domestic workers coming here have gone through training. The numbers will likely drop over the next few years," said Mr Chin.
But these measures may end up putting Indonesian maids at a disadvantage, who may continue to work as maids overseas despite a ban, said Association of Employment Agencies Singapore president K. Jayaprema.
"Some domestic workers may leave the country as undocumented workers. That means they won't be able to go to their embassy for help if they get into trouble overseas."
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