"The Philippine Embassy here says Filipino maids must be paid the minimum US$400 (RM1,400) monthly salary as decided earlier by Manila labour authorities.
The embassy’s labour attache here, Hassan T. Humdain, said the minimum salary for Filipina maids had been fixed at that amount and his government wanted that enforced."
When I read this piece of news, I couldn't help but shake my head and smile to myself.
I happen to know that some of our local girls who didn't do too well in school are working as sales girls in the many shopping malls around KK, working from 10am up to 10pm with a short lunch break at around noon. And they'd be lucky if they can earn RM700 net per month. I don't know if they can earn very much higher in the bigger cities like KL.
Others work as clerks in the offices, perhaps earning slightly higher salaries and shorter working hours. From that monthly incomes, they would have to pay for accommodation—usually sharing an apartment with some friends so that they can split the rent. Then of course there will be expenses for their 3 square meals. Not to forget the bus fares.
When all these living expenses have been accounted for, there's hardly anything left for savings. That's why I could only shake my head and smile to myself when reading that the Philippine government is demanding a minimum salary of RM1,400 for their maids. For the benefit of those who don't know it, employers will also have to provide food and lodging for the maids. It means that the RM1,400 is net. In fact, if the maids are careful with their money, they can put almost the entire RM1,400 into their savings. Talk about being realistic!
That said, however, I can understand the Philippine government is trying to get the best deal for its citizens. Maybe if I were in their shoes, I would do the same thing too. In principle, whenever I'm in a negotiation for a deal, and if I'm aware of the fact that the other party is in a weak bargaining position, I will take advantage of the leverage. But I will still do it within the limits of being realistic.
Although the Philippine government is in a superior bargaining position, they should look at the situation in Malaysia. If the local girls are only earning RM700 per month, did the Filipinas think it's realistic to expect more than double that amount? I say more than double because it would be more than RM1,400 per month when the cost of food and lodging are taken into account.
Furthermore—no offense to the Filipinoes—I'm not sure if they're really in a better bargaining position.
I think the Philippine government should realise that many of their women are quite willing to come to Sabah—I don't know about the rest of Malaysia—to work as maids for a substantially smaller salary than the RM1,400 per month their government is demanding for. This is because these poor souls are unable to find work in their own country, yet they still have mouths to feed. If those decision makers in the Philipinne government don't believe this, I'd suggest that they conduct a survey and they'd be surprised by the outcome of that survey.
It is admirable that the Philippine government has the pride to demand for such a high salary for their maids. But by setting the minimum salary at that level, the deal is not likely to materialise, and they will still be stuck with the problem of many mouths to feed. There is no meaning for the high pride if your people have to endure hunger.
Therefore, the reality is that many Filipinas, especially those from the Southern Philippines, in spite of the demands of their government and because of apparently perpetual poverty, brave the high seas and immigration controls to sneak into Sabah in the hope of seeking employment as maids. A fair number who're unable to find employment may end up in the flesh trade. Of the luckier ones, they would accept much lower salaries, as their main concern is that of survival, not luxury.
After working for a while, and after experiencing a bit of the "good life", they begin to scout around for better opportunities. Some of them do find something a bit better. And this is when some employers may find their maids suddenly go missing without notice; and quite often when these people leave, they would also help themselves to some of the employers' cash and jewelry.
For those who opt to remain "loyal" to their employers, they'd start to demand for higher salaries. But when the employers are unable to afford to meet their demands, they would lodge a report to the Philippine authority in Sabah, claiming that their employers have not been paying them their full salaries all the while. These are people with plenty of ideas in their heads, I tell you!
I think if the Philippine government is really sincere about helping its people, it should come down from its high horse and be more realistic with its demand. By setting the minimum salary at RM1,400 per month, very few of us Sabahans, if any, will be able to afford their maids. But of course some of us are willing to sign documents stating the salary of RM1,400 per month just to satisfy the formal requirement, when actually the verbal agreements with the maids are at a much lower figure. But I for one will not do so. For I can't trust the Filipinas. One of these days, when there is something they're unhappy about, they can produce the formal documents again and demand for the RM1,400 in full for all the months they have been "underpaid".