KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia hopes that Indonesia will reconsider a proposal by the Jakarta ambassador to stop sending its domestic workers to Malaysia, amid a backlash following the shocking death of a young Indonesian woman after alleged abuse by her employers.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he would be meeting Indonesian Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri in the near future to look at the best possible solution to prevent maid abuse cases.
"We express deep regret if the media report about Indonesia intending to stop sending its domestic workers to the country due to the isolated maid abuse case is true," Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Home Minister was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency after attending an event in Perak.
"In fact, we know that we have certain SOPs (standard operating procedures) that must be adhered to by employers and the Malaysian government will never protect any employer who are found to have acted cruelly (against their maids)," he added.
Ms Adelina Lisao, 21, died after she was apparently not given medical aid while working at a semi-detached house in Penang. She was seen by witnesses to have been sleeping on a mat in the porch beside a Rottweiler.
The case was not the first involved maid abuse in Malaysia, with Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno last week telling Malaysia that she demands justice in the case of Ms Adelina, who was from East Nusa Tenggara province, a cluster of islands to the east of Bali.
Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia Rusdi Kirana said President Joko Widodo is on board with the idea of halting the recruitment of Indonesian domestic workers to Malaysia, The Jakarta Post on Saturday (Feb 17) reported.
Mr Rusdi was quoted as saying that he had proposed halting sending domestic workers to Malaysia and working on restructuring the employment administration process. This could help mend diplomatic ties between the two countries, which had been strained by repeated cases involving migrant workers.
"A moratorium is important so we can restructure our (migrant workers) employment system to prevent cases such as Adelina's from happening again," Mr Rusdi told reporters.
There are 250,000 women working as maids in Malaysia who are mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Malaysian Maid Employers Association president Engku Ahmad Fauzi Engku Muhsein has called for an orientation programme to introduce these workers to potential employers.
"I agree that employers should also be vetted because some of them do not realise that when they employ someone, they become a boss and some of them do not know how to be a good one. They must go for an orientation programme as they need to learn how to manage and assign jobs to their maids," he told The Straits Times.
While cases like Ms Adelina are isolated, it has triggered an outrage from netizens, lawmakers, as well as activists calling for a stricter legal framework to protect the welfare of migrant workers in the country.
Her death has brought back the horror details of abuse cases by employers in Malaysia.
In 2004, then 20-year-old Nirmala Bonat was tortured by her employer with a hot iron.
In 2010, a 26-year-old maid from Sumatra was beaten with a belt, her back scalded with boiling water and her breasts pressed with a hot iron.
These cases of abuse involving Indonesian women had led to angry Indonesians staging a protest outside the Malaysian ambassador's residence in Jakarta in 2010.
In 2016, 19-year-old Suyanti from Medan was unrecognisable due to the injuries she sustained, after she was assaulted by her employer daily.
Lawmaker Steven Sim, who initiated Ms Adelina's rescue said that although extreme cases like hers are considered isolated, supranational governance needs to be put in place to ensure their rights are protected.
"The host country, like Malaysia, needs to strengthen its bilateral solution with the other nation. We need something substantial to protect those who migrate for economic reasons," he said.
Mr Sim said the thing that struck the most was the condition she was found in.
"She was unresponsive. We could see fresh, raw wounds and pus on her body. Basically, her whole body was covered in blood and bruises," he said, adding that the employers had quietly snuck out with their maid while the rescuers were interviewing her neighbours.
Ms Adelina died the following day (Feb 11), one day after she was rescued.
Based on post-mortem results, she had died of anemia due to untreated wounds on her body that led to a multiorgan failure.
Labour rights group Tenaganita executive director Glorene Dass has urged the the government to urgently pass the laws recognising foreign maids as workers, not servants, to ensure they have equal legal protection.
Currently, the labour laws define maids as servants which makes their employers' homes not subjected to public scrutiny.
"Many employers feel that they can subject their domestic workers to sustained abuse and torture with impunity, which sometimes end tragically, as in the case of Adelina," Ms Dass said.
The death led to the arrests of five individuals, including two Indonesians who were responsible in recruiting Ms Adelina.
Between June and December last year, a total of 120 cases including 82 women have been filed and managed by Tenaganita.
Among the violations from the case management include no rest day, unlawful deduction, unpaid wages, food deprivation or provision of only nutritiously insufficient meals, poor working and living condition and physical and verbal abuse.