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A new bill to protect Indonesia’s domestic workers this month

Indonesia is the largest democracy in the world without a law to protect its domestic workers. That may be about to change, with a bill that also paves the way to better rights for millions of Indonesians in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore. But at home, many domestic workers will miss out on the law’s protections completely. Almost 5 million domestic staff are looking after upper-middle-class homes and freeing richer Indonesians to pursue more lucrative careers. But they are often physically and socially isolated, leaving them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, assault and modern slavery.

The Domestic Workers Protection Bill, which President Joko Widodo aims to pass into law this month, gives household employees - three-quarters of whom are women - more of the rights afforded to formal workers. The bill could be an important protection against the idea that "anything is acceptable for a domestic worker.” Household staff currently have little or no recourse if employers fail to pay the agreed salary or expect round-the-clock service.

After months of pressure from workers, activists and the president himself, the latest round of discussions about the bill began in late March. For Jokowi, as the president is known, passing a law before he steps down next year would fulfil a campaign promise he made back in 2014. The bill requires employers and agents to uphold promised wages and working hours, and punishes physical assault with up to eight years’ imprisonment or fines of as much as 125 million rupiah ($8,233). It also recognizes domestic helpers’ right to training, health insurance and social security.

For the employees it applies to, the bill meets many of the terms of the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers. Regulators and workers expect other policies - such as Indonesia’s existing commitments to end child labor and eradicate domestic violence - to fill some of the gaps.

However, the bill falls short of setting a minimum wage and working age, or capping working hours. Issues such as unionization also remain uncovered. And there’s another, bigger catch: Domestic workers who are hired directly by a household, rather than via an employment agency, are not covered by the bill at all. Direct employees account for roughly 40% of all domestic staff, according to Anggraini.

Still, the bill is a first step to improving protections for domestic workers in Indonesia. And as the country’s middle class expands, the number of household staff is expected to grow too. Around half a million joined the sector between 2008 and 2015, according to the ILO. New regulations may also become a useful governmental bargaining chip in negotiating better conditions for Indonesians overseas. The nation is one of the world’s biggest sources of domestic staff, with 3.6 million of its citizens employed in wealthier homes around the world, mainly in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and the Middle East.

Source: The Star


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