The Indonesian government announced in a letter to Singapore maid agents last month that maids from its country must be paid at least $550 a month. This is an increase of $50 a month from the current $500. If the mandated increase of minimum pay for Indonesian maids doesn’t come with a perceived improvement in quality of work, then I think this is a wrong move that will ultimately hurt Indonesian women.
Indonesia isn’t the only source of maids for Singapore. If the cost of hiring a maid from Indonesia gets too high, Singaporeans will simply hire maids from other countries. Indonesian women would then lose an avenue to earn a better income that could help them lift their entire families to a better quality of life.
So if the Indonesian government wants their women to be earning more as maids, then it is their prerogative to train the women to be able to produce better quality work. The training should also weed out women with character flaws that make them unsuitable to be maids. Then have some form of a certification that provides assurance that maids from Indonesia are worth the higher salary.
With that said, I am not sure that the problem is with the pay that the maids are receiving. I think the pay that the maids are getting now is already quite a lot more than what they would expect to earn if they had remained in Indonesia. It is already enough to dramatically improve the quality of life of their families. But this comes with a lot of sacrifice and heartache. Is it a fair exchange? We trust that in a free market economy, the market mechanism will more or less sort it out. If the rewards aren’t worth the sacrifice, the women can choose not to be maids.
But beyond the mechanism of the free market, Singaporean employers of maids have a duty as human beings to treat their maids as fellow human beings. Not slaves. Not beasts of burden. Because the way we treat others speaks less of who they are as it is a reflection of who we are.
At the very basic level, we need to ensure that the physical needs of the maid are met. Food, physical safety, decent place to sleep, sufficient rest. Then, we should establish a basic level of trust. Then let the maid have her own space. How much trust and space should we give the maid? One good guide is this: If our own children were working as maids in another country, how well would we hope the employer be treating them?
At the end of the day, it’s not about the money. It’s about humanity. Money, free market mechanism will sort it out. But we all have a duty, as human beings, to have compassion and act humanely. Otherwise, how different are we from animals?
[Featured image: Fivestarsandamoon]