Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Minimum Salary For Filipina Maids

"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."

The Star

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".


Anonymous said...

I am not sure how the Phillippine government can demand this from another country?? Malaysia has its own laws and ways of doing things... I understand the Phillippine govt's concerns, but still, shouldn't they be trying to fix the problems they are having at home, especially in the south, so maids do not have to run to another country for work??

I am not saying Malaysians should treat Filipina maids badly, I could never say that, and I truly pray that most employers and their employees have good relationships.. I do not think the Phillippines has the right to demand Malaysia give a minimum wage when the Phillippines cannot even give this..

Cornelius said...

The excuse for that USD400 per month is, I believe, because the maids are getting that kind of salary in other countries. For example, I think Taiwan and Hong Kong have been quoted.

But not all the maids are able to find employment in Taiwan and Hong Kong. So my contention is that the not-so-lucky ones must be prepared to take the next best deal they can get, instead of remain jobless in their home country. If the next best deal is only a fraction of that USD400, that is still better than zero USD.

Marguerite said...

I have no idea when the Government of the Philippines in the interest of its people fixed such salary but the "Filipino Cartel" has been asking for 400USD since two years ago. I enterviewed about 26 of them (or shall I say they enterviewed me) while looking for a helper when I had just moved from Singapore. I just commented to a few friends in KL that I was looking for a helper, their maids offered to reccommend someone and suddenly my telephone didn't stopped ringging with applicants trying to get an enterview, I could have set up an agency!
These ladies who arrived to this country as "tourists" but had their working visas already in order in their passports despite being jobless, offered their services in house keeping and without shame demanded two days off a week starting from Friday night. I was in shock as in Singapore (a country with higher income per capita and higher cost of life) I used to pay only 350SGD (800RM) and my helper had only 2 days off a month(not nights)!
Half of them had no experience in domestic chores but, by the way they were dressing, they seemed to have experience in some kind of "entertainment bussiness". They are dangerously associated and being outside the law they can do anything to you, who can you claim to? These very honourable ladies have indeed all sort of ideas, they declare openly they only work for expatriates and never for a Chinese family. There was one even asked me for her own "supermarket allowance" as she only took "organic food".
There are two sides of the story here: a weak Malaysian Government unnable to enforce its rules in its own territory, accepting foreign domestic helpers at a rate impossed by other government when many Malaysians in cleanning services or even sales cannot dream of getting a similar nett income. Authorities are certainly closing an eye perhaps because there is good many involved in processing their documents outside the frame of propper hiring, Visas can cost from 4,000 to 7,000 and they know before hand who does it for them as they told me. They are incredibly well organised and I doubt is the church they go to, who gives them such counselling. The other side is the proud Government of Philippines asking unrealistic salaries for unqualified people, making it so difficult for agents and employers and in that way stimulating the illegal entry of women that may fancy having two different jobs in nature "day and night" putting in risk the security of families who desperadely look for help and end up hiring one of those.
I was lucky to find an agency who used to bring Filipino helpers directly from small villages with no connections in KL, salary was then 750RM and they came under the condition of having days off not out, Sundays are to rest at home or where employer brings them to avoid mixing with the bad apples. I had to start by teaching her English, basic hygene practises, money saving habits and everything she had to do at home, I have no regrets, she has turned to be a very responsible home manager, good cook and happy person to have around. Soon her contract will end, she will go back to continue studying and my agent cannot provide me with a new helper as she stopped bringing philippinos due to all changes in policies and difficulty in managing them. Must be a sign to move on and try teaching English, good cooking and habits to a Myanmarise or Cambodian and as we did with our philippino and contribute to improve in some way their quality of life.

Cornelius said...


Thanks for sharing your experience here.

I just want to comment on:

"There are two sides of the story here: a weak Malaysian Government unnable to enforce its rules in its own territory, accepting foreign domestic helpers at a rate impossed by other government when many Malaysians in cleanning services or even sales cannot dream of getting a similar nett income."

I'm not sure about "a weak Malaysian Government", but I'm a believer of the market forces of supply and demand. If the cost of a Filipina is twice or trice of that of, say, an Indonesian, then the market will adjust itself.

Not very many Malaysian households can afford to pay USD400 for a maid; still many of us are earning that much ourselves, or even less!

The Philippine Government can demand as much as they like, but for as long as there are alternatives, that demand won't mean anything much.

Anonymous said...

How much is a reasonable salary in Kong Kong for a Filipino maid?
Is there a big difference between what expat and chinese families pay them?