Tuesday, February 10, 2015

MALAYSIA:::Maid in Malaysia-Indonesia and Territorial Issues on Jokowi Visit Agenda

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday this week for his three-day official visit to Malaysia, his first since being elected last year. Top on his agenda are two of the biggest unresolved issues affecting the two countries – foreign workers and territorial claims. A couple of days before that, yet another “maid issue” cropped up: an automatic vacuum cleaner company runs an advertisement with the words “Fire your Indonesian maid”.
Malaysia Maid
Vanitha Nadaraj
A maid agency signage in Petaling Jaya. About 90 per cent of maids in Malaysia are reported to be from Indonesia.
Netizens in both countries were furious over what was deemed as an insult to the 400,000 Indonesian maids working in Malaysia and Indonesians in general. The website of the Malaysian distributor of the company RoboVac was hacked and a warning posted.
Indonesia sent a formal protest note to the Malaysian government on Tuesday. Vice President Jusuf Kalla criticised RoboVac and even went to the extent of saying that Indonesia would consider re-introducing a moratorium on labour supply to Malaysia for up to five years.
In 2009, Indonesia cut off supply of domestic workers to Malaysia due to numerous reports of abuse by Malaysian employers and agents. Horrific accounts of maid abuse in the local media triggered street protests in Jakarta and also the burning of the Malaysian flag in the compound of the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta.

The moratorium was lifted after assurances by the Malaysian government that there would be better protection and working conditions for Indonesian maids when the two countries signed the Bali agreement in 2011.
Malaysia has been walking on eggshells since then because of the heavy dependency of Malaysian households on Indonesian maids. About 90 per cent of maids employed are from Indonesia. Indonesian labour makes up a chunk of workers in oil palm plantations and construction.

Moving closer to a solution on the maid issue

Despite Malaysia’s assurances and measures, the foreign workers issue is far from over. Foreign workers make up about 21 per cent of the workforce as of 2011. Getting a comprehensive policy in place can be tricky but progress appears to have been made with President Jokowi’s visit.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak announced that there would be an “official channel” for maid recruitment and other workers from Indonesia from now forth to ensure better recruitment practices but news reports did not elaborate on this.

Territorial claims

President Jokowi told Astro Awani that ties between Malaysia and Indonesia should go beyond the G2G level and be more people-to-people. He did no elaborate what he meant by that but did say that the people of both these countries are from the same “root” or rumpun.
But it will take a lot more than the feeling of belonging to the same “root” when dealing with the issue of borders, one of which involves Ambalat. Both countries have laid claim to this oil-rich sea block east of Borneo, close to Sabah. When the International Tribunal favoured Malaysia in the dispute over Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in 2002, Malaysia decided to stake its claim to Ambalat, a move vehemently opposed by Indonesia to this day.
Tensions over this and over cultural claims caused then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to visit Malaysia in 2009 to mend ties. A Malaysian tourism promotion advertisement had a clip of the Balinise pendet dance that was portrayed as a Malaysian traditional dance.
It would be na├»ve to expect territorial claims to be resolved over a three-day visit. The fact that President Jokowi was quoted as saying that he recognised that this dispute “has lingered for too long” shows that there is some sense of urgency in getting it resolved. And so it was that both countries have appointed special envoys to handle territorial disputes.

Bright days ahead

Despite issues that may seem so debilitating, Malaysia is among Indonesia’s biggest trading partners with trade worth almost US$25 billion. Malaysia is also among the biggest investors in Indonesia.
And there is every reason to believe that Malaysia-Indonesia relations will grow from strength to strength when Proton Holdings Bhd signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and manufacture an Indonesian national car last Friday (February 6).
This could be the lifeline much needed by Proton that is struggling with dwindling sales and a bleak future, and also the national car that Indonesia has been wanting to have. More importantly, this brings both countries one step close to the Asean car plan, an idea mooted in the 1980s.
Wonder if the regional haze problem was discussed by the two leaders. Still, not bad for a first official visit.


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