A potential ban on Indonesian maids working overseas will have a major impact on Singapore, which depends heavily on Indonesia for domestic help, said maid agents here.
There are 125,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore, based on Indonesian Embassy estimates, making up about half of the 218,300 domestic worker population here.
"Indonesia has been a good and reliable source country for domestic workers for so many years. The impact would be huge," said Ms Shirley Ng, owner of Orange Employment Agency.
"A potential ban is serious. If it happens, the maid industry would be affected badly," said Mr Gary Chin, owner of Nation Employment, Singapore's biggest maid agency.
Singapore maid agents were reacting to Indonesian President Joko Widodo's comments last Friday at political party Hanura's national congress in Solo, Central Java, that he wants to stop Indonesian women from working abroad as maids and to better protect overseas workers' rights.
This is not the first time an Indonesian president has spoken about restricting Indonesian women from working as maids abroad.
In 2012, Mr Joko's predecessor, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, promised to provide one million jobs by 2013 to encourage Indonesian women working as maids abroad to return to the country. The programme did not take off.
The number of Indonesian maids coming here to work has been rising. In 2012, there were 100,000 such workers here but this rose to 125,000 last year.
Still, maid agents say the latest statements reflect a growing move to protect Indonesian women who go abroad to work.
Last November, Indonesian Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said Jakarta does not aim to impose a complete ban on maids working abroad. Rather, it wants to ensure that the workers are properly trained as babysitters or caregivers.
Mr Chin said: "Indonesia wants to stop sending lowly educated, unskilled domestic workers abroad. Instead, it wants to send maids who are better trained and who command higher salaries."
What is likely to happen is not an outright ban but a drop in the number of Indonesian maids coming here, said maid agents.
"Indonesian officials will tighten the recruitment process to make sure that the domestic workers coming here have gone through training. The numbers will likely drop over the next few years," said Mr Chin.
These measures, however, may end up putting at a disadvantage Indonesian women who continue to work as maids overseas despite a ban, said Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore. "Some domestic workers may leave the country as undocumented workers. That means they won't be able to go to their embassy for help if they get into trouble overseas."
A Manpower Ministry spokesman noted that overseas governments make periodic reviews of exit requirements of their workers. The ministry also reviews its own policies, including protections and alternative sources, to ensure they remain relevant, the spokesman said.