PETALING JAYA: Employment agencies supplying domestic help are now turning to locals as the supply of foreign maids dries up due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, this alternative is not without its own set of challenges.
Justina Neo, the managing director of an employment agency, said her company was one of those that decided to recruit locals.
“We have to survive and continue our services, but it is hard to find local candidates within the appropriate age group.
“For example, domestic helpers from the Philippines are aged between 23 and 45.
“For local candidates, the age range is from 45 to even 70. The market cannot accept it, ” said Neo, who manages Advance Advisory employment agency.
She said that there were also differences in the expectations of salary and job scope.
“Locals are demanding a salary of about RM3,000 but most employers are only willing to pay less than RM2,000.
“Out of 10 locals who apply for the job, 50% will tell you they do not want to be a live-in maid or they may only want to stay with the employers four or five nights a week, ” she said.
She added that other places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan already allowed the entry of new domestic helpers.
“We are proposing that our government reopen the doors to domestic helpers who already have their permits approved before the pandemic, ” she said.
David Tan, a director at another employment agency, said his company had ventured into recruiting locals a few months ago but it was not a positive experience.
“We tried hiring more locals but it was not practical to continue with this as there were not many candidates, ” said Tan, who is director at Innovedge employment agency.
Despite fears of Covid-19 outbreaks, he said the demand for foreign domestic help remained strong.
“We have been getting many calls and inquiries about foreign domestic help since the middle of this year, ” he said.
He said his company was surviving on income from renewing contracts and visas of existing domestic helpers in the country, which makes up about 10% to 15% of their normal revenue.
Association of Employment Agencies president Datuk Foo Yong Hooi said the industry was “dying”, with some firms preparing to wind up.
The government, he suggested, should grant special incentives for the agencies so that they could help spur local employment as well.
“We have not seen any policies specifically for this sector, and we do not have any income coming in since the beginning of the pandemic, ” he said, adding that he did not receive any response to his proposals after his meeting with the Human Resources Ministry.
“We hope the government will consider allowing domestic helpers from other countries to come in, subject to strict standard operating procedure.
“The number of domestic helpers who enter the country is not high, compared to construction workers, ” he said, estimating that about 2,000 new maids come to Malaysia monthly before the pandemic.
Malaysians also said they were struggling to manage their households.
A man who wished to be known as Lee YS, 56, said he was waiting for the borders to reopen so that the domestic helper he hired could enter the country to replace the previous one.
He said he paid part of the processing fee amounting to RM10,000 to hire the new maid, but she was not allowed to enter the country.
The situation has led Lee to turn to locals recruited by the agency, but most of them are elderly and not fit to take care of his ageing mother.
“Some locals are willing to work as maids because they lost their jobs.
“The issue is that some of them are in their 50s and 60s, which is a bit too old to take care of my mother, ” the consultant said.
He added that he hired a maid to help his mother with cleaning herself and bathing.
“If it is housework, we can still manage ourselves but we need someone to keep an eye on my mother when we are out of the house on errands, ” Lee said.
He noted that in recent years, it had become difficult to hire domestic helpers and that the number of candidates had greatly reduced.
“Last year, we were given two candidates to choose from, whereas previously we might have 10 candidates, ” he said.
An executive from Cyberjaya who wants to be known only as Syafeeq, said he had been searching for maids – even local ones – for almost four months now.
“I’ve been looking for someone who can take care of babies and it has taken me four months now.
“I am still waiting for feedback from three agencies for local maids, ” the 33-year-old said.
Syafeeq suggested that the government reopen the borders to service workers in
stages, adding that agencies should also hire and give training to locals as well.
“The agencies should hire more locals but they must be offered benefits such as EPF contribution and Socso.
“If we do that, maybe more locals will be interested to work in the sector, ” Syafeeq added.
Yvonne Lo, a music teacher in Kota Kinabalu, has been looking for a maid since October.
“I am looking for any maid that can fulfil my criteria but it is difficult to get one nowadays, ” she said.