Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Waking Up to a Home without a Maid

It has been awhile I blog about maids. Not that I have no issues. Rather the maid market in Malaysia over the last 2 years or so had been too volatile to see a trend emerging. But now the direction we, the maid dependent families, are taking is becoming clearer. In short, adjust. The good days are over. Unless you are wealthy and can afford to employ premium maids chances are you are, like my family, stuck with problem maids that we have to suffer in silence.

Firstly let me state this. We are not getting a maid for luxury as some families are likely to do. Nice to pay someone to order round the house like a personal slave. Even if not meant to be treated this way but with civility, a maid is a personal assistant to do laundry, upkeep the house, answer the phone, open and close the gates, carry bags to and from the cars, even bath and play with the pet dogs. Oh yes, I forgot the children, they have someone to lord over too.

We get a maid because we need one. We help to look after grandchildren, not one, not two but because there will be three to look after. We are in our mid 60s with physical limitations. Grandchildren don't understand grandparents aren't horses or Hercules. They expect them to stoop or squat and pick up their toys. They expect to be lifted up. They expect us to be their playmates. How we wish we can, we are. But at the risk of straining our backs we sometimes oblige but carefully. We want to build relationship with them. We want to feel and be young at heart, and in body too. But our age difference is too vast. We try and will keep trying. But with an infant due to join her older siblings not getting a maid is not an option. We have to set that condition.

Since we terminated our last maid who even after being with us for exactly a year couldn't pick up basic skills including understanding common instructions, we had been hunting, literally, for her replacement for the past 18 months. We chose a Vietnamese lady we met on our Hanoi holiday. We thought it would be a good match but we were luckless. Her mother met an accident and she was forced to turn us down. The next 3 candidates either had cold feet or, we suspected, intercepted by other applicants who paid under counter.

All this while the maid market grew tight. Indonesia restricted her maid export to Malaysia and set many new terms and conditions alien to the local employers. Granted they were in denial mode, not realizing maids are leaving us for greener pastures, including going home to work, and fewer maids want to come over because of negative reports about mistreatment, many continue to hope for improvement which never come. Indonesian maids are soon replaced by Cambodian maids and when they became problematic Filipino maids came into greater demand. One by one these source governments laid down strict conditions to prevent illegal recruitment of their nationals. This result in a hike of agency fees without a corresponding assurance of better service and better maids. Families that really need maids must fork out more than RM10,000 now to get a maid and even with that no guarantee the one chosen from whatever few bio data viewed will definitely arrive to start work. We fell into this category. We were fortunate the agencies agreed to refund our paid fees. Like other families we were put under much inconvenience. But we believe we weren't fated to match with the maids we chose and took the disappointment philosophically.

The 18 maidless months made us less reliant on maids. It is only because looking after 3 children becomes an enormous task that a maid becomes necessary. But when they grow older and more independent very likely we won't keep a maid but then other issues will arise. We will surely be less mobile, less strong, more vulnerable and injury prone that a maid will be necessary to look after us or our house.

Many families are in our situation, some even worst. Many are forced to send children to daycare or aged parents to nursing homes. The quality of family life is affected and stress abound. Alternative solutions akin to those available in developed western societies must be found so that we are less maid dependent. Or ideally to develop our human and intellectual skills to become a high value society, by which I mean one in which income far exceed expenditures so that one partner can afford to stay home or work part time or self employ to choose the path they desire to balance their financial security and family stability.

Maid dependent families are further burdened by income gap. They need double income to support higher living costs and therefore, must find caregivers for their children and/or old parents. This push up expenses. It is little wonder why many couples choose to start family late until they are financially stronger, which in itself create another problem of late pregnancy risks and reduced fertility rate. Some young people even choose a single life minus the worry and bother of caring for children. This is already a global trend. What this lead to is population shrinkage. Singapore is in such a crisis and no amount of incentives will encourage higher birth rates, unless childcare becomes a state responsibility, which requires a huge investment. For survival of a nation it may be seriously considered, even then locals must be willing to be child minders.

A total relook is important to keep population reproduce itself at least and for families to be meaningful. From this perspective we can understand how important maids play their role in society building, be they local or foreign. Otherwise starting families may become too challenging that young adults no longer view marriage as necessary.

Now you see how important maids are in our lives. Because lifestyle has overtaken our priorities that we are no longer mandated by values but materialism and comfort.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, hope you are well. My wife and I too have maid issues. I think Malaysians shouldn't blame anybody but ourselves. We have become dependent on cheap foreign labor. It used to be plantations, construction sites. Now even household, retail, hawkers, etc. This dependence has artificially kept wages low. Businessman claim that if we got rid of cheap foreign labour, we will have more expensive houses, etc. Maybe true, but it also makes us lazy and mitigate our ability to innovate to improve productivity and encourage automation. And as I said cheap labour means , unrealistic low wages for locals. How do people in Europe, US and even Japan cope? Merry Christmas. Andrew.

Peter Yew said...

Andrew, the problem is larger than individual families can cope. It is normal to pay low and expect more services. Here we lack leadership from the government to resolve this long standing problem. The fact that we end up with 3rd class maids who caused much problems is probably due to the fault of both sides. Malaysians have learned the hard way that good maids don't come cheap. The problem is that good maids may not come at all due to global shortages. We can try to live without maids but the truth is it will take collaboration between society and government to find the middle ground. Compromise and sacrifice are required. The developed nations already have in place professionally run daycare and nursing homes accepted by families. I guess we need to arrive at the same situation before we can rid ourselves of dependence on maids. Peter


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