Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Activists call for ruling to protect domestic workers

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The fact that no single law exists to ensure the rights of domestic workers is endangering the rights of millions of maids across the country, activists said on Wednesday.

"This is a sensitive issue for our policymakers, because if they regard them as formal workers, they would have to give them the same rights as other workers, such as paying them in accordance with regional minimum wage regulation, giving them holidays and leave, fixed work hours and contracts," Aida Milasari of non-governmental organization Rumpun Gema Perempuan said.

MB Wijaksana of Jurnal Perempuan (Women's Journal) said the absence of such a law was ironic, considering that domestic workers benefited the government by reducing the number of unemployed.

"There is no law at the national level at all that can give them protection -- socially, economically or legally -- to work in Indonesia, even though their work reduces the unemployment rate by a quarter," he said.

The long-running issue of the lack of protection for maids against abuse by employers resurfaced following reports on Tuesday in this paper that an Indonesian woman had been jailed in the U.S. for nearly four years for forcing an Indonesia made into virtual slavery.

Wijaksana said that Law No. 13/2003 on manpower does not mention domestic workers while Law No. 23/2004 on the eradication of domestic violence touches only on physical abuse, not on working relations.

Jurnal Perempuan said in a recent edition that the number of domestic helpers was about 2.5 million, employed by 5.41 percent of families in Indonesia. The number almost equals one-quarter of the number of unemployed people, which is about 9.5 million.

He and Aida welcomed the punishment meted out to the Indonesian woman by the U.S. court for abusing her maid.

"That's something that we have to learn to do here, let alone exceeding working hours. Even if a maid gets raped, beaten or even killed, perpetrators here do not get the punishment they deserve," Aida said.

According to the 39th edition of Jurnal Perempuan, published on Tuesday, if legal protection is not provided immediately, the problems suffered by the domestic workers could lead to a new form of slavery.

"Domestic workers have vulnerable working relationships and weak bargaining positions," said the journal in its most recent edition themed Domestic Workers.

However, Wijaksana pointed out that several provincial administrations had drafted regulations to protect domestic workers, which shows that they are more progressive than the central government.

"Jakarta has already issued Bylaw No. 6/1993 on the welfare of maids, Yogyakarta is discussing a draft on domestic workers, and I heard that Manado also regulates domestic workers in its bylaw on human trafficking," he said.

However, he criticized Bylaw No. 6/1993, saying it did not protect domestic workers because it mainly regulated the fees levied by recruitment agencies in order to garner more income for provincial coffers.

Both activists agreed that the draft being discussed at the Yogyakarta Regional Council was the most progressive since it contained definitions of the work involved, obligatory contracts, minimum working age, holidays, work hours and punishment for parties who violate the bylaw.

"But it would be more effective if we had a law on the protection of domestic workers at the national level," she said. (006)