KUALA LUMPUR - Indonesian maids should avoid working in Malaysia, their embassy in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday, after the latest domestic worker scandal there saw 105 women locked up and forced to work without pay.
Malaysian authorities said they had freed 95 Indonesians, six Filipinas and four Cambodians who toiled as housemaids by day but were locked inside a building near the capital at night.
Recurring reports of abuse of Indonesian maids have soured relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors and prompted Jakarta to angrily cut off the supply of domestic workers to Malaysia in 2009.
The two sides announced a year ago that the ban would be lifted after they reached an accord to provide maids better protection and working conditions.
But the latest case, exposed in a raid by authorities on Saturday, showed Indonesians were still at risk, especially those who come to Malaysia illegally rather than through proper recruitment channels, a spokesman for Jakarta's embassy said.
"The Malaysian authorities should take tough action... It's better for Indonesian maids not to work in Malaysia," spokesman Suryana Sastradiredja told AFP.
"They (Malaysia) are asking for Indonesian maids but they cannot protect them well."
The women freed Saturday -- Malaysian media reports said they had arrived illegally over the past several months -- have been taken to a shelter and will eventually be sent back to Indonesia, Sastradiredja said.
Some of the women claimed their monthly wages were being seized by their employment agency as payment for recruitment services, reports said, adding that 12 people had been arrested in the case.
Sastradiredja said fewer than 100 Indonesian maids had arrived through official channels since the ban's lifting, turned off by low salaries and abuse reports.
But, citing estimates by Indonesian and Malaysian activists, he said Jakarta fears thousands more may have been duped into coming illegally with promises of well-paid work since the ban was set, and were now working in vulnerable situations.
One of Southeast Asia's most affluent and developed countries, Malaysia has long attracted aspiring maids from its poorer neighbors, mostly Indonesia. And before the ban, some 300,000 Indonesians were legally registered as working as maids there.
Authorities involved in Saturday's raid could not be reached.
But Human Resources Minister S. Subramaniam was quoted by Malaysian media warning tough action against the country's more than 300 maid agencies if they mistreat foreigners.
Recurring incidents in which foreign maids have been confined, abused or even killed have repeatedly rankled Malaysia's neighbors.
In October, an advertisement in Malaysia that offered Indonesian maids "on sale" went viral online in Indonesia, sparking new outrage.
Last month, police said they were investigating a man in northern Malaysia for allegedly raping his 15-year-old Indonesian maid.
Meanwhile, three police officers were charged in November with raping a 25-year-old Indonesian woman at a police station.
Cambodia also banned sending maids to Malaysia last year following numerous abuse complaints.
Irene Fernandez, executive director of Malaysian migrant labor group Tenaganita, said maids were still not covered under the country's labor laws and thus extremely vulnerable.
"There are terrible weaknesses in the system. We do not have a legal framework for domestic workers," she said.