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  • Elaine Sim

Alternative retention strategies for Indonesian helpers in Malaysia

Updated: Apr 18

Abscondment is always the biggest fear of most employers when hiring an Indonesian domestic helper. There are a combination of reasons why this happens. For example, when there is a lack of expectation alignment between what the job requires and what the helper is wiling to do. Helpers also abscond due to unsustainable agency and employment practices that leave them with a lot of debt or with little to no support. Employers on the other hand are frequently faced with the 3 big dilemmas: handphone, passport and rest days.

Common dilemmas: Should I or should I not?💡

1) Whether to allow your helper to hold her own handphone

Common concerns:

  • Helper contacting outsiders

  • Helper spending too much time on their phones

  • Helper missing home

  • Helper's family asking for money

Helpers who do not have access to communication with their family and friends often experience extreme isolation and loneliness. This affects their mental health significantly and makes it difficult for them to stay productive. While lack of professionalism with handphone usage can be a frustrating situation to deal with, a balanced approached is always better to meet the needs of both employer and helpers. For example, certain rules and schedules can be agreed upon about handphone usage during the work day and if some of those rules are violated, certain consequences may apply. An approach that involves open dialogue and communication about expectations is always much more effective to maintain a healthy employment relationship. Make clear to workers that violating the privacy and security of your home can lead to their contract being terminated. This includes inviting a stranger into your home or taking photos of family members or the house and sharing with third parties or on social media.

2) Whether to allow your Indonesian helper to leave the house on her own during her rest day

Common concerns:

  • Where will she go, who will she meet?

  • Will she be safe?

  • I prefer her to go out with us only

What we noticed is that every Indonesian helper has different comfort levels with the idea of going out on her own in a foreign place. It would be nice for helpers to have friends within trusted circles to build a sense of community with and have an alternative source of emotional support outside your family. Since helpers are more likely to connect better with other helpers, having this community can be very beneficial for their emotional well-being and help alleviate some homesickness or feeling of loneliness. Some helpers may prefer going out with your family on their rest day, but some may consider this arrangement as work. This comes down to individual preference, so be sure to discuss this with your helper.

3) Whether to allow your Indonesian helper to hold her own passport

Common concerns:

  • I am afraid she might runaway

  • She might work for someone else under my name! I don't want to risk it.

  • I want to keep her documents in a safe place

In our experience, whether or not employers hold helpers' passports, helpers who do not have the right intentions to stay will still leave the job by absconding. Many times, abscondment arises from lack of expectation alignment. This is why Migratesafe focuses a lot on transparency during the recruitment and matching process. We also find that holding on to helpers' passports may create distrust and misunderstanding between helpers and employers. We recommend providing helpers with a safe place to keep their own passports. Employers should only safekeep helper's passports on their voluntary request, and this request should always be properly documented. In these situations, helpers should be allowed to access their passports immediately upon request. Withholding a helper's passport without their consent is illegal, and carries the risk of a complaint being lodged against you by the helper to the Malaysian or Indonesian authorities.

Our website and its contents are provided for general information purposes only and nothing on this website or in its contents is intended to provide professional advice. Please contact us at or +6082-295175 for more information.

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