PETALING JAYA - Tens of thousands of families in Malaysia have been left in the lurch as a shortage of foreign maids becomes more acute.
With only about 200 foreign maids arriving every month, compared to more than 1,000 several months ago, the waiting list is getting longer.
The Malaysian Association of Foreign Maid Agencies (Papa) estimated that 35,000 families are in desperate need of maids, with the average waiting time now stretched to more than seven months.
The problem is caused by Indonesia imposing a freeze on its people from entering Malaysia as maids since last year. Indonesia is the biggest supplier of domestic helpers to Malaysia.
The maid shortage has been worsened with Cambodia being unable to meet the shortfall.
On average, 7,000 maids are needed per month to replace those who return home after their contracts expire, but the number of new arrivals is less than 5 per cent of that figure, Papa secretary Foo Yong Hooi said.
He said the problem was temporarily solved when Malaysia opened its door to maids from Cambodia but, after about eight months of high demand, the country faces difficulties in supplying enough maids.
He said Cambodia would be able to supply more maids if the government was willing to lower the minimum-age limit of maids to 18 years from 21.
"The supply of maids above the age of 21 from the country is overstretched. This is because many in that age group are starting a family and are not willing to come here," he said.
He said Papa had made a formal request to the Home and Human Resources ministries last year to lower the age limit of maids, when the shortage first started turning serious.
A Cambodian delegation of maid agencies and labour officials is expected to arrive next week to discuss the issue of lowering the age requirement with the authorities.
"The age requirement is a concern for our Cambodian counterparts," Mr Foo said.
For industry players, the more-important issue was not just about finding a temporary solution, but also to look at the primary issue - the continuing freeze on maids from Indonesia.
"I believe the government has done what it can. We always welcome maids from Indonesia. The government has made its offer. The ball is now in Indonesian's court.
"The impasse will not end unless Indonesia lifts its moratorium on the hiring of maids," Mr Foo said.
Maids from Indonesia and Cambodia are sought after by many families because their monthly wage is affordable, at around RM600 (S$253), compared to the RM1,200 for maids from the Philippines.
Malaysia has also opened its doors to maids from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Nepal and India.