Maid agencies are doing good business, judging from the numbers.

Maids have been hugging the headlines since the 2018 Budget gave household employers a free hand to recruit domestic help directly. There is both excitement and concern, depending on whether you are member of the Malaysian Maid Employers’ Association (Mama) or National Association of Private Employees Agency (Papa). Like it or not, household help is here to stay as we chase developed nation’s status, which requires both parents to work. Maid agencies must blame themselves for this development. If it were not for their exorbitant fees, this new measure may not have seen the light of day. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

So the authorities, like all caring governments, decided to say “enough is enough” and gave the employers the choice to recruit their own maids. Seeing their business going south by this move, the maid agencies are dangling low fees. Some are asking for as little as RM3,000. How they arrived at this number from a high of RM18,000 is a fibonacci mystery. More than maths is involved here.

Maid agencies are doing good business, judging from the numbers.

Mama’s data seems to suggest that there were 250,000 registered maids from Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Hence Papa’s willingness to negotiate.

When it comes to hiring maids, there is always the Mama and Papa side of the story, and, the narratives very often diverge. Employers are very happy because each household can count on saving RM10,000, at least on paper.

This is the cause for the elation that rang out on Friday from homes throughout the country. But, Papa is all set to spoil Mama’s party, though. Justifying the high fees, the maid agencies claim that there are fixed fees to pay in the countries where the maids are sourced from.

Figures between RM5,000 and RM10,000 are quoted, but there is no clarity as to what the fees are for and to whom it is paid. This adds mystery to their maths. We can understand Papa’s concerns, after all their members are being threatened out of existence.

But, let us get real. Is hiring a maid going to be easy for employers? Take the case of Indonesia, a favourite of Malaysian employers.

Under Indonesian law, its citizens are prohibited from being employed directly by foreign households. As this paper reported earlier, the only legal way to do it is to hire them through a business-to-business arrangement. The Indonesian Manpower Services Association (Apjati), an umbrella body for maid agencies, may have a way out of this quandary.

Apjati suggests that its members in Indonesia and Malaysia enter into an agreement to hire the maids, an arrangement sanctioned by both the governments, according to the association. This may be legal under Indonesian law, but the arrangement does not address the employers’ concerns about costs. It may not have the Malaysian agencies’ mark up, but Apjati’s fees are not exactly sweet pills.

Are the employers stuck between a rock and a hard place?

As they say, we will know when the rubber meets the road.