KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Indonesia has formally protested to the Malaysian government over a vacuum cleaner ad it says is "utterly insensitive" to the hundreds of thousands of its citizens working as maids in the country.
The flap emerged just as Indonesian President Joko Widodo was to arrive later on Thursday for an official visit, his first since being elected last year.
The ad by the Malaysian distributor of RoboVac automatic vacuum cleaners declared "Fire your Indonesian maid now!", according to versions seen on social media. "The ad by the private company Robovac is utterly insensitive and demeaning to the people of Indonesia," the Indonesian embassy in Malaysia said in a statement. The embassy said it sent a formal protest note to Malaysia on Tuesday.
"We urge Malaysian authorities to ban the ad," it said, adding that it was considering further legal action against the company.
Relations between the two South-east Asian neighbours have repeatedly been strained over the treatment of Indonesian domestic helpers in Malaysia.
Recurring reports of physical and other abuse by Malaysian employers or recruiters prompted Jakarta to angrily cut off the supply of domestic workers in 2009.
It was resumed two years later following an agreement to provide maids better protection and working conditions.
The Indonesian embassy said the ad has since been removed from circulation. AFP was unable to reach the company Thursday.
In 2012, a flyer advertising cut-rate maid services emerged in Malaysia declaring: "Indonesian maids now on sale!"
The issue went viral among angry Internet users in Indonesia and triggered a phone call by Indonesia's foreign minister to his Malaysian counterpart to complain.
Last year a "racist" Malaysian insurance commercial depicting a male Chinese actor as a Filipina maid drew similar outrage in Hong Kong.
Aimed at the employers of the southern Chinese city's 300,000 maids, who mainly hail from Indonesia and the Philippines, the ad from Malaysia's Hong Leong Bank shows the Chinese actor wearing dark orange make-up and a curly wig as he plays clumsy maid "Maria".
It was withdrawn after the outcry.
One of South-east Asia's more affluent countries, Malaysia has long attracted aspiring maids from its poorer neighbours, the vast majority being Indonesian women.
An estimated 400,000 foreign domestic workers are now employed in Malaysia.