SINGAPORE: Indonesian maid Supadmi Sidek has been with her employer for almost four years. She draws a salary of S$550 a month, what a new maid with no experience from her home country will earn from next year. When the increase kicks in, starting wages for Indonesian maids will be among the highest for foreign domestic workers in Singapore.
"I don't mind paying my maid her current salary at S$550 because she has the experience and she's been with us for a long time. But to pay a fresh maid at the same salary - that may not be justified, with their skills," said Ms Farzana Abdat, Ms Supadmi's employer.
While Farzana does not mind paying her maid a higher wage next year, not everyone might be willing to do so, especially when skills have not improved in tandem.
"The Indonesian authorities imposed a system of 400 hours of training for fresh domestic workers who come in, but we do not see the impact of that 400 hours. In fact, we have seen the quality of the trainees dropping," said President of the Association of Employment Agencies (AEAS) K Jayaprema.
"That is a real concern for us, and AEAS will actually be taking this up with the Indonesian authorities to ensure that (if) you request for an increase in salary, then you must improve the quality of the domestic workers on par with this request."
The association said employers are increasingly turning to Myanmar as an alternative source country for maids.
Maids from Myanmar made up about 4 to 5 per cent of foreign domestic workers here three years ago. Today, the figure is about 15 to 20 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Indonesian and Filipino maids has fallen.
Ms Jayaprema added that it may no longer be an employers' market. Households needing childcare and eldercare have driven up demand around the region, and starting wages in Singapore are relatively affordable compared to places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, where employers dangle salaries of around S$750.
"Singapore is only paying S$500. Even if you increase it by S$50, it's still only S$550. There's still a gap of S$150 to S$200. So we see that Indonesia's policy is not just grabbed from thin air," said director of Nation Employment Desmond Chen.
"It is not really that cheap, frankly speaking, in Singapore. The difference is at the most S$50 or so, maybe S$100. More important is that you get someone who is willing to work for you, who is honest, sincere," said Mr Chua Kim Soon, who employs a maid from Myanmar.
The association said that ultimately, both the employer and the maid have to commit to a partnership that shows respect for the other party's needs.