Tue, 18 Sep 2001

Councillors ignorant of bylaw on maids

JAKARTA (JP): It has been eight years since a city bylaw on housemaids was issued, but a city councillor admitted he has never even heard of it.

"I'm not aware of the existence of such a bylaw. I've not read it," Lambertus Gainadara of Commission E on welfare affairs told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

The bylaw in question, Perda No. 6/1993 on the supervision of housemaids' welfare in Jakarta, stipulates that the governor is responsible for overseeing the welfare of housemaids in the city (article 2).

The bylaw has come under the spotlight following the emergence over the weekend of one of the most horrific cases of housemaid abuse to come to the fore in recent times.

Recuperating from serious wounds resulting from abuse allegedly inflicted over a sustained period by her employers, 19- year-old housemaid Jumiati told reporters in the hospital here on Sunday that her elder colleague died two weeks ago after committing self-immolation.

Articles 3 and 4 of the bylaw state that the domestic-help agency in question should provide shelter, training, skills, and mental and spiritual care for its candidate housemaids.

The obligations of employers as stated in article 10 include providing their maids with salaries, food, clothes, supervision, proper shelter, good treatment, adequate rest, breaks for religious worship, medical treatment and compensation in case of dismissal.

Lambertus, who was installed as a city councillor from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) faction in August 1999, said that the case needed to be looked into by his commission.

"The perpetrators should be severely punished. The punishment should serve as a deterrent to others," he said.

Labor expert Apong Herlina said that regulations to protect housemaids' rights need to be expanded because there was no explicit law providing protection for housemaids thus far.

"Working as a maid is a risky undertaking as there is no law governing this domain," she said.

The job of a maid, Apong said, was classified as informal work, which tended to be ignored both by most people and the government.

Apong said that housemaids tended to lose out when abuse cases went to court as the evidence and witnesses were often stacked in favor of the employers.

"Lots of violations against maids have occurred but most of them cannot be brought to court because the employers' families tend to cover up such cases," she said.

The current bylaw also stipulates that in the case of a conflict between a maid and her employer, the matter may be brought before a committee of the city administration.

But Apong said that the committee had yet to be established. She also lamented that the bylaw did not explicitly provide for minimum wages and working hours for maids.

The working hours of housemaids in Jakarta depend on their employers. In the absence of specific regulations, some work as long as 15 hours a day or more.

Tuti Sunarto, head of Women Solidarity, echoed Apong's opinion, saying that most people failed to respect maids as human beings since they thought it was enough to pay them and nothing more.

"There have yet to be any express regulations covering the matter," she said.

Naval spokesman First Commander Franky Kayhatu said that Jumiati's employer Major Edison Hutapea was being questioned at naval headquarters in Cilangkap, South Jakarta.

"This case needs a thorough investigation before he is pronounced a defendant. We will have to hear witnesses' accounts prior to drawing any conclusions," Franky said.

Asked about Hutapea's wife, police officer First Adj. Insp. Marsini Napitupulu, Franky said that as a police officer she was not the responsibility of the Navy.

The couple are alleged to have habitually locked all the windows and doors in their house to prevent the 19-year-old Jumiati and her now-deceased colleague Sipon from escaping.

Apong said that the couple had violated Article 351 of the Criminal Code and that the case was not only about physical abuse but also about unlawful detention.

"The couple have committed human rights violations. The case should be thoroughly investigated by their respective corps," she remarked. (04/tso/jun/hbk)