Syndicates believed to be luring foreign maids away from employers

SIBU, MALAYSIA - Some employers here believe that syndicates are behind the disappearance of their foreign maids.

"This problem has existed for a long time and I believe the number of runaways is increasing," a businessman surnamed Hii told The Star.

He claimed that his Indonesian maid, who had been working for the family for more than three years, disappeared recently.

"She has been a good and loyal maid. We have never mistreated her. The working and living conditions are excellent since our children are all studying and working overseas," Hii, who lives in a bungalow with his wife, related.

According to him, his wife found a mobile phone inside their letter box several weeks before the maid's disappearance.

"We took the mobile phone and kept it. Not long after that, there was another mobile phone in the letter box. After close observation and investigation, we found that at least two men, believed to be Indonesians, placed the devices inside the box."

Hii believed that the modus operandi was to monitor a house which they suspected had an Indonesian maid. When they are certain, they drop a cheap mobile phone in the letter box in the hope that the maid would pick it up and use it.

"They would then keep calling the mobile phone and if the maid answered, the men would use all means to sweet-talk her into running away with them," Hii elaborated.

He believed the men would promise her a job with a better pay or one of the men would promise to marry her.

Hii said he had raised the problem with the maid's agent and he (agent) acknowledged that there had been other similar complaints.

In another case, an accountant surnamed Ling claimed that his Indonesian maid left last month without his knowledge.

"I returned home from work one evening with my wife and we were both surprised that the maid was not there to greet us.

"Everything inside the house was in order. We later found that she left the remote control of the auto gate in the front garden. She did not even bring all her clothes," said Ling's wife, Wendy, adding that the maid had been working for them for several years and she was treated more like a daughter or a sister than a domestic help.

"She was very good in house work and was also a good cook. I am really sad that she ran away without leaving a word or a note. I even miss her."

She also said the maid was well-treated and was always paid on time. "There is not much house work either as our three children are working overseas. Furthermore, we eat out quite regularly."

Wendy claimed that after some investigation, she found that the maid ran away with someone she barely knew to work in a sawmill in Bintulu.

"I didn't know exactly how she came to know the guy. But our neighbours told us while we were out working, some men approached the maid but they only talked through the gate."

When contacted, a police spokesman said there were not many reported cases of missing or runaway maids.

"However, I believe many employers do not report their cases to the police, but just inform their agents to get a replacement."

On alleged syndicate involvement in the disappearance of the maids, the spokesman urged the affected employers to lodge reports.

Meanwhile, an agent believed that maid-pinching was a common practice nowadays in the major cities and towns across Sarawak.

"The problem lies with some unscrupulous maid agents. Many of the runaway maids go back to their agents who find new jobs for them in other towns. It is a lucrative business because employers now pay between RM8,000 and RM10,000 for agent's fee per maid," he said on condition of anonymity.