By Guest Writers Desi Yunitasari and Devi Yusvitasari
With a population totaling around 260 million individuals, Indonesia is the fourth-largest country in terms of population size. This has contributed to the surplus of workers in Indonesia. Domestic workers are a fundamental part of the movement of the activities of millions of households in line with the increasing demand for the needs of families in urban and rural areas to do household work such as care and maintenance-and household services. Indonesia not only employs millions of domestic workers but supplies them in large numbers to Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Middle Eastern countries. Domestic workers indirectly affect national economic growth, as the wages they send home contribute to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 80 percent of all domestic workers are women, while underage female workers make up 30% of the workforce. Most of these women and girls are breadwinners for their families. Moreover, according to the 2016 ILO estimation, 4.2 million Indonesia people work in domestic work in 2015 and the majority were women. The World Bank (2017) also estimated that 9 million Indonesian migrant domestic workers abroad, 60% to 70% of whom are women. There are several factors that allow the position of domestic workers in Indonesia to be filled more by women. For instance, the lack of job opportunities obtained by the society’s stigma that considers domestic work should be done by women, the low level of education and the lack of skills.
Discrimination against Vulnerable Domestic Workers
In Indonesia, there is a lack of legal protection for domestic workers who are employed informally without a legal contract, regular working hours, provisions for maternity leave, or social protection. The 2015 national data showed that due to a lack of legal protection, 81% of these workers worked without weekly rest and 60% worked more than 40 hours per week. Most domestic workers are also paid way below the minimum wage. The average nominal wage for domestic workers in August 2021 was IDR 425,000 per month. There are also those who receive perfunctory wages with an indefinite working period, which means they have to be on standby 24 hours a day. The ILO report shows that only 11% of domestic workers in the region enjoy the minimum wage to the same extent as other workers. Furthermore, there is no single national database of domestic workers to monitor the well-being of the approximately 5 million domestic workers. Domestic workers are very vulnerable to various forms of harassment and violence including the physical, verbal, and sexual kinds, as well as trafficking. The National Advocacy Network for Domestic Workers stated it received 3,255 complaints of violence against domestic workers from 2015 to 2022. The actual number could be larger than this, as many cases are thought to go unreported, such as sexual harassment, humiliation, insults, deductions from wages due to illness, wages not paid for months, wages arbitrarily deducted by dealers, non-payment of religious holiday allowance and others. The working place of domestic workers is a private area and not easily reached by the government as a public authority. This can be categorized as modern slavery. Given that the character of slavery was that people were forced to overwork and had no authority over themselves, they were very isolated, vulnerable to various forms of harassment and violence, and were treated inhumanely. The Global Slavery Index for 2018 estimates that there are 40.3 million people worldwide living in situations of slavery. Of these, 71% were women and 24.9 million people were in situations of forced labor. The UN special rapporteur, in his 2018 report, stated that one form of slavery practice is domestic servitude, which still occurs both in developed and developing countries.
A Long Road for the Domestic Workers Protection Bill
Even though the government has made efforts to reduce the impact of the lack of protection on domestic workers through the Regulation of the Minister of Manpower (Permenaker) Number 2 of 2015, this Permenaker still does not provide sufficient protection. Moreover, domestic workers are in fact still-considered as “Domestic Helpers” not as “Domestic Workers”. The term “helper” ultimately leads to unbalanced work-power relations and prevent domestic workers from being treated as formal workers who have the same rights as workers generally, such as working eight hours per day, receiving a living wage, having the right to holidays and so on. Whereas, the term “worker” indicates a working relationship that balances both parties’ interests (between domestic workers and employers), including the availability of legal protection that can ensure that both parties’ rights and obligations are carried out. Moreover, according to Law Number 13 of 2003 Concerning Manpower, which regulates such rights for formal workers, domestic workers fall outside of this. Whereas, a number of domestic workers who become migrant workers abroad, such as in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, have been recognized as workers in the formal sector.
The Domestic Workers Protection Bill contains several key provisions, including provisions on the direct and indirect recruitment of domestic workers as well as their rights, such as the right to education provided by their placement agencies and the right to health and work accident insurance. It also regulates criminal provisions to protect domestic workers from discrimination, exploitation, harassment and violence by employers and placement agencies. It has been more than 19 years and the bill has yet to be passed. The bill, which was first proposed in 2004, has been added to and then removed from the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) at least three times over the past 19 years. In 2020, the bill was registered as a Priority of Prolegnas and has been discussed in the Legislative Body (Baleg) of the House for the 2020–2024 period. However, after discussion, the bill was not designated as the House Initiative Bill. The House Deliberative Body declined to approve the endorsement, citing “administrative reasons”.
There was a perception, particularly among policymakers, that the Domestic Workers Protection Bill is not essential since domestic workers are thought to be a small population with a low social position. This is due to the existence of individuals who underwent direct work during the period of slavery, these slaves were deprived of all rights, including the right to life. This perspective was exacerbated by misunderstandings regarding the bill’s provisions, the bill is even considered to disrupt the existing social and cultural order in society, which actually put domestic workers in a difficult situation. It was also caused by a lack of understanding of the comprehensive contents of the bill, which are actually not only to protect the domestic workers but also the rights of their employers. After President Jokowi’s endorsement, to pass the bill, the bill was stipulated by The House as The House initiative bill on Tuesday, 23rd March 2023. The PDIP and the Golkar, the two biggest party factions in the House, which previosly opposed the bill, have already approved it. Observers highlighted that the bill should not merely be a way to raise the head of the House’s political electability. More than that, the bill, which has been stalled for 19 years, must really protect domestic workers.
An Urgent Need for Ratification
The bill would pave the way for Indonesia to ratify ILO Convention 189. Given that, the Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has ratified the convention. So that the state’s position in advocating for the handling of cases of violence, exploitation, and discrimination against migrant domestic-workers abroad can be strengthened. There is a need in the community, ranging from religious leaders, employers, civil society organizations and the mass media, to oversee the ratification of the Domestic-Workers Bill.