KUALA LUMPUR, May 22 (Reuters) Malaysia ruled out laws to enforce better working conditions for some foreign domestic workers yesterday, with a minister saying a shortage of maids from Indonesia had prompted recruiters to demand hefty premiums.
Home Affairs Minister Mohamed Radzi Shaikh Ahmad told reporters Malaysians now had to pay up to 6,000 ringgit ($1,769) to hire an Indonesian maid, saying he would meet his Indonesian counterpart at the end of May to find ways around the problem.
A pact between the two nations set the maid recruitment fee at about 3,000 ringgit, but Indonesian recruiters felt it gave them insufficient profit and demanded a higher fee, Radzi said.
''Malaysian employers have no choice but pay because of late we are having a shortage of Indonesian maid supply,'' he added.
In the battle to lure Indonesian maids, Malaysia faces competition from neighbouring Singapore and Hong Kong, which offer better wages, Radzi said. Malaysian employers typically pay about 400 ringgit a month.
With Malaysians reluctant to take up menial jobs, the country is one of Asia's largest importers of foreign labour, which makes up a quarter of a workforce of about 10.5 million, particularly on plantations, in construction and in domestic service.
Malaysians got a harrowing glimpse into the treatment of some domestic workers when newspapers reported the death in April of an Indian migrant worker after eight months of being beaten, chained up and starved by his employers in a sauce business.
Asked if laws were needed to specify working conditions for the maids, Radzi said, ''We cannot have maids having a holiday, weekends off. It's up to the employers to give time to the maids to rest. We Malaysians are famous for being compassionate.'' But Malaysia plans to provide the maids with insurance policies, he added. ''We are introducing the insurance policy for maids, in case of death, accident, whatever it is,'' Radzi said, but did not elaborate.
Earlier this month, Radzi said about 1,200 maids fled from the homes of their Malaysian employers each month. He blamed unscrupulous recruitment agencies seeking to boost turnover by encouraging the maids to go on the run.
Human rights group have long urged Malaysia to plug loopholes in labour and immigration laws that expose migrant workers to the risk of abuse and exploitation by employers and recruiters.
Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia often work a gruelling 16 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and earn less than 25 US cents an hour, US group Human Rights Watch has said.
Malaysian officials say Indonesians account for 340,000 of the country's 380,000 foreign maids, with Filipinas, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians and Sri Lankans making up the rest.
REUTERS AE VV0917