The following article is published in the Straits Times on 13 August 2012.
Pay more for Indonesian maids from NovemberBy Amelia Tan
HIRING an Indonesian maid will be more expensive by year's end.
Employers hiring such maids from November will have to sign a contract with a clause stipulating that the maid must be paid at least $450.
Another clause will state that if she works on all her four weekly rest days each month, she has to be paid another $70, or $17.50 for each day off she works.
These two clauses will be in the contracts issued by the Indonesian government. But how far they will go to ensure Indonesian maids are compensated fairly depends on the rigour of enforcement - and the Indonesian Embassy's record in this has been patchy.
Nonetheless, embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono stressed that the embassy will from now on take a tough stance on its minimum-salary guidelines, and employers and maid agents who flout the terms of the contract will be barred from hiring and recruiting Indonesian maids.
Contracts now in force already state maids must be paid a minimum of $450 a month, but this clause has hardly been enforced.
It is an uphill task to get maid agents here and the recruiters in Indonesia to play by the rules.
The Straits Times reported last week that Singapore agents have been working with their Indonesian partners to circumvent the policy pertaining to the sharing of the cost of recruiting and training these maids, which was introduced by Jakarta on May 1; about 260 Indonesian maids were brought in through the "back door" as a result.
Add to this Singapore's lack of a minimum wage policy for maids; salaries, fixed by market forces, have settled in the $420 to $450 range for Indonesian maids.
Contracts by the Philippine government state that their maids are to be paid at least US$400 ($498), but Filipino maids generally get $420 to $450 a month.
Maid agents say some maids, grateful to have a job, do not complain if they get less than the stipulated sum; others are too afraid to complain.
Current contracts are silent on how much Indonesian maids should be paid for working on their day off, which now comes once a month.
Mr Sukmo said that with the new contract spelling out that maids are to be paid $70 if they work on all four of their days off in a month, Jakarta is aligning its policies with those of Singapore's.
The Government here announced this year that employers taking on new maids and those whose maids are renewing their work permits from Jan 1 must give their maids a day off every week.
The Government said employers can pay their maids for working on their days off, but the agreement must be in black and white.
There are some 206,000 foreign maids in Singapore, and about half of them are from Indonesia.
Mr Sukmo said all Singapore-bound maids will be told of the $450 minimum salary they should get.
He added: "I'll investigate each case, and not hesitate to suspend agents and employers who do not follow the rules."
The names of offending agents and employers will go into the Indonesian government's online database, which lists the particulars of maids, employers, maid agents, training centres and recruiters.
Some maid agency representatives here expressed doubt about the enforceability of the clauses.
Some pointed out that Indonesian recruiters and maid agencies here have sealed deals to under- pay the maids they bring in.
Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said: "Adequate policing must be done in both countries to ensure a level playing field for all agents. Some employers are drawn to certain agencies because their maids ask for less."
Mr Benny Liew of Comfort Employment said, however, that the higher salary enshrined in the clauses may attract higher-quality and experienced maids.
Not all employers try to get a maid on the cheap; some say they are prepared to pay more for experienced, self-starting maids.
Jeweller Eileen Tjandra, 42, gives her Indonesian maid a monthly day off and pays her $520 a month - above the market rate for experienced maids.
She said: "My maid is responsible and requires minimal supervision. I'll give her a $30 raise in the next few months to reward her good performance."