Slow start to bank scheme that protects Indonesian maids

Only about half of the estimated 200 employment agencies here that focus on placing Indonesian domestic workers have signed on to a compulsory bank scheme that seeks to protect workers.

So far, some 20 workers on the scheme, announced last month, have started work in Singapore, said Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) (AEAS) president K. Jayaprema on Thursday.

Under the Household Service Workers Industry Scheme, which is part of the Indonesian government's efforts to improve the welfare of its overseas workers, domestic helpers take up personal loans from Maybank Indonesia to pay the costs of application procedures and placement fees in Indonesia.

Employers would no longer pay for this first and then deduct a portion of the helper's monthly salary. Instead, they will credit the helper's full salary every month into her local Maybank account and she will settle the loan. The scheme also caps the service fee helpers pay to the Singapore agency and sets a minimum salary of $550.

Ms Jayaprema said it was just a matter of time before other agents got on board.

"When you introduce something new, people may drag their feet," she said at a networking session she had organised for about 150 Indonesian recruiters and local employment agents on Thursday.

Agreements were signed at the event between AEAS, the Indonesian Manpower Services Association, which represents recruiters, and Maybank Indonesia to formalise the cooperation on the bank scheme.

Agencies have to be accredited with AEAS to join the scheme. But this requirement may be holding some of them back, said Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the National Trades Union Congress-run Centre for Domestic Employees, adding that he hopes the scheme will be made more widely available.

He said it would help minimise disputes between domestic workers and employers as potentially conflicting financial matters are handled by the bank.

"The Indonesian government said they want to stop maids from coming, and I think their main concern is they want their workers to be treated fairly. If we can in all ways try to make the recruitment and employment practices fairer, I don't think they would stop their workers working for us," he said.

Ms Jayaprema said the accreditation is necessary because AEAS will monitor the scheme's implementation here to ensure that maids get their bank accounts and do not have unfair salary deductions made by employers.

A similar bank scheme was introduced a few years ago but failed to take off, said Ms Roziah Mohd Noh, director of AZA Employment Agency, adding that the current scheme has more oversight from various organisations.

Clients she spoke with have been open to the scheme, she added.

"Employers like the idea of not having to put down a lump sum... A few thousand dollars can be a big burden for some and the sum's now been halved," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Slow start to bank scheme that protects Indonesian maids'. Print Edition | Subscribe