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Last Updated: Monday, 17 April 2006, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
Indonesia and Malaysia talk maids
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Indonesia and Malaysian officials are meeting to negotiate an agreement on maids after a number of those working in Malaysia have reported abuse.

Middle class Malaysia relies heavily on domestic workers - 300,000 from Indonesia alone.

But they are excluded from much of Malaysia's employment legislation and so enjoy only limited protection.

Human Rights Watch and a coalition of regional workers' groups want the two countries to change that.

Typically, live-in maids earn just over $100 a month and many are lucky to get any time off at all.

Campaigners say they should have a minimum wage and one rest day per week. They also want workers to be able to keep their passports rather than hand them over to their employers, and they are asking for proper procedures to help maids who are abused.

Shocking case

A Malaysian court is currently trying a local couple for allegedly torturing an Indonesian maid with an iron. Last week the court heard that Nirmala Bonat was required to clean the iron of her own burnt flesh and skin.

The case shocked Malaysia and provoked outrage in Indonesia.

However the Indonesian authorities have been accused by rights groups of doing far less to protect their workers abroad that the neighbouring Philippines, where expatriate workers are a powerful lobby.

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