Boarding my return flight from KL a couple of days ago I picked up the courtesy papers. Their front pages carried the kind of story that measures something of the distance between South East Asia and Australia, at least for the meanwhile.

The Star‘s* headline assumed everyone was in on it: “Maid deal soon.” The New Straits Times had a more oblique head, “Making headway” but featured a remarkable photo: two heads of government, President Yudhoyono and PM Najib Razak, shaking hands on the “maid deal” – evidently a very big deal indeed.

Since last June Indonesia has imposed a moratorium on sending its citizens to work in Malaysia as maids. Among the new terms are that the maids be allowed to hold on to their passports and that they get a day off a week – you get the picture. There is also talk – well, heated grumbling – of the monthly pay being raised by 80%, to RM800, or AUD295.**





* The Star‘s fabulous second story is a caption to the cheerful picture of an MP and his second wife arriving at a Syariah (Islamic) court. MP Bung and actress Zizie married without court consent, a much-gossiped about event.

“ ‘It is enough for me to say that Datin Nor Asidah is a very, very good woman in my eyes,’ said Zizie when asked about her relationship with Bung’s first wife. Zizie, when contacted by Star Online, however refused to say if she had met up with Nor Asidah.

Zizie who had just returned from a vacation with her husband, said she had now found happiness and peace. ‘My life has become happier and more peaceful now … Allah has shown the best path for me.’ ”


** The current rate for a maid is about 450 ringgit per month. There are around 400,000 maids working in Malaysia currently, three-quarters of whom are Indonesian; the bigger picture is that there are 2.5 million Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, largely unskilled and in the building industry. The average wage in Indonesia hovers around RM350 or 985,000 Indonesian rupiah. The official jobless number in Indonesia is 7.87%.