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Analysis: Indonesians drag feet on improving lot of domestic workers

Jakarta Post - February 1, 2023

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – When President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo demanded that the House of Representatives complete deliberations on the domestic worker protection bill earlier this month, there were few takers. Political parties, which are gearing up for next year's general election, are not interested. There was little enthusiasm from the public either. Only one labor union has openly come out in support of the president's demand that the House expedite the legislation.

The draft bill has lingered in the House for nearly two decades. No House member or faction has taken any real interest in advancing it. This is not only because it is a not a hot-button political issue that could win them votes in elections, but it is also because politicians are most likely employing one or more domestic servants at home, as do many households in Indonesia. They are happy with the current arrangement, in which essentially no laws govern the employment of these workers. In some cases, it can amount to modern slavery, wherein the employers decide everything and the domestic workers are completely at their mercy.

The current draft of the bill demands legal recognition for these domestic servants as workers, entitling them to legal protection, just as any other worker. Without this legal recognition, the much touted and much debated Job Creation Law does not cover domestic workers. The domestic worker protection bill covers cooks, cleaners, baby-sitters, caregivers, gardeners, drivers and security guards.

In many households, a domestic worker likely combines many of these jobs into one. Typically, they work long hours and receive low wages. And some are subject to physical abuse. The National Advocacy Network for Domestic Workers (JALA PRT) says it received 3,255 complaints of violence against domestic workers from 2015 to 2022. The actual number could be many times this, as many cases are thought to go unreported.

The language surrounding domestic workers has transformed over time, from the former title of babu, now considered a denigrating term, to pekerja (worker). In the last decade, the language has changed to household assistant (ART). The nation seems willing to afford domestic workers some degree of respect in terms of language, but not in terms of legal recognition and protection.

The draft bill says that domestic workers and employers must enter into a contract in writing, setting out terms and conditions. These include salary and benefits, working hours, rest days and holidays, health care and other insurance benefits and education and training. It would also set the minimum age of workers at 18.

Not stipulated in the draft is the minimum wage, although this should follow from the Job Creation Law once domestic workers gain legal recognition. The lone labor group to vocally support the bill, the Federation for Muslim Workers in Transportation, Teaching and the Informal Sector (F-TPI Muslim), which is affiliated with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organization, has demanded the inclusion of the minimum wage in the draft.

The draft bill was first presented to the House in 2004 by the national advocacy coalition JALA PRT, formed by 26 groups that same year. Nothing moved for years until President Jokowi took it up this month and ordered the House to speed up the deliberations.

What's more

JALA PRT says the legislation would pave the way for Indonesia to ratify the 2011 International Labor Organization Convention on Domestic Workers. Indonesia not only employs millions of domestic workers, it also supplies them in large numbers to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Middle Eastern countries. The wages they send home contribute to the country's foreign exchange earnings.

While civil society organizations have been forceful in demanding that foreign governments sign agreements to protect Indonesian workers, including domestic workers, they had been silent against their own government. Some activists, too, likely employ domestic workers under unsavory conditions.

The domestic service sphere provides jobs for millions of Indonesians, many of whom have little to no education. The labor export market also provides lucrative business.

For now, the pressure to regulate their work is outweighed by the pressure to maintain the status quo. President Jokowi may encounter resistance from the public against efforts to reform the system.

Since coming to power in 2014, Jokowi has overseen the enactment of important pieces of legislation that had long been stuck in the House of Representatives. On Jan. 2, he signed into law a revised Criminal Code after a 50-year wait. In 2021, he saw to the enactment of the Sexual Violence Prevention Law, which had been stalled for more than 12 years.

Jokowi has launched efforts to build a new national capital in East Kalimantan, a project to relocate out of Jakarta that every Indonesian president contemplated but never got around to. When he was Jakarta governor from 2012 to 2014, Jokowi launched the construction of the city's underground railway system, a project that had waited for more than 20 years.

Can he pull it off the same with the legislation on domestic workers? Much depends on how strong public pressure is. For now, it doesn't look like it's forthcoming.

What we've heard

According to a politician from the House, the House's legislation body had agreed on the content of the draft in 2020 but was rejected by the Golkar and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) factions.

According to this source, the parties are reluctant if the bill is passed. As one of the bill's mechanisms is to protect the rights and obligations of domestic workers, the two largest factions are worried the bill, if passed, would lead to formalization of domestic workers, which will mean a burden for those employing domestic workers.

One of the issues being questioned, for example, is the obligation of employers to pay domestic workers according to the minimum wage or to provide health benefits. In addition, the issue of providing overtime pay is also one of the problems that is considered aggravating.

The government is lobbying a number of parties to speed up the ratification of the bill as ordered by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. A member of the House who is familiar with the process said that the communication process is led by Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly and Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah.

"It is hoped that Yasonna will ease PDI-P's resistance," said the source. This source also said that hopes are present for the deadlock to be broken by way of taking advantage of the closeness between Yasonna and the current leaders of the House's PDI-P faction, namely Utut Adianto and Bambang "Pacul" Wuryanto. "When Pak Yasonna was still a House member, he was Bambang Pacul's subordinate," said this source.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/02/01/analysis-indonesians-drag-feet-on-improving-lot-of-domestic-workers.htm