In a rare day off from housekeeping and childcare Sunday, maids emerged from the domestic sphere to gather at the Hotel Indonesia Traffic Circle, Central Jakarta, to rally for their rights. Organized by the National Network for Domestic Workers Advocacy (Jala PRT), some 300 people, including 100 domestic workers, staged a rally to mark Feb. 15, a day the group has proclaimed National Domestic Workers Day. Domestic workers stood in a row wearing aprons that spell out "15 Februari". The workers asked that this date be named their national day, and demanded the deliberation of laws to protect them.
Protesters carried cardboard posters depicting a maid on her knees at her employers feet, with words: "PRT are not allowed outside the house". PRT is short for pekerja rumah tangga (domestic workers). The protesters also staged a short play about the daily life of a house maid. The protestors demanded employers acknowledge their job as a profession and give them rights such as getting the day off on official holidays."Who calls themselves pembantu (helper) here?" a protester asked the crowd of domestic workers. "We should stop calling ourselves pembantu. We are workers!" "If all we do is help out people all the time, when do we receive our rights?" she asked, earning cheers from the crowd.
Protesters also demanded the government pass a Domestic Worker's Protection Law and officially make Feb. 15 a national holiday for domestic workers. In Indonesia, most middle-class families employ maids to perform domestic chores and childcare, but not all acknowledge their rights. The Jala PRT estimated in 2008 that more than 4 million people are employed as domestic workers, including one million child maids.
However, despite this widespread use, Indonesia does not view the job as a profession. It is not recognized under Indonesia's Labor Law. As some workers live with the employing family, the job remains in the private business of the family, outside of the sphere of labour laws and public scrutiny. Domestic workers face many problems. They receive very low pay for very heavy work loads. Salaries can start from as low as Rp 200,000. Lita said that sometimes employers keep their workers salary by delaying their payment and often reduce the salary as they like. There is also no fixed workload, resulting in long working hours. Domestic workers generally work for between 12 and 16 hours a day, they do not have weekly holidays and have very few opportunities to socialize outside their workplace.
Ongoing battle: Four women hold posters asking the government to issue a law on the protection of domestic workers' rights, during a protest in 2006. To date, the government has yet to pass any such law. (JP) Ongoing battle: Four women hold posters asking the government to issue a law on the protection of domestic workers' rights, during a protest in 2006. To date, the government has yet to pass any such law. (JP) The lack of regulation and legal protection makes domestic workers prone to exploitation and abuse.
On Feb. 15. eight years ago, domestic workers took the streets of Surabaya to protest the fatal abuse of Sunarsih, a local child maid. Sunarsih died Feb. 12, 2001 at the age of 14. The Jala PRT has recorded 412 cases of domestic worker abuse between 2000 and 2007. In July last year, a housewife with a history of mental illness allegedly beat her maid to death in South Kedoya, West Jakarta. In August 2007, two maids from Lampung, working for a family in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, were beaten, scalded with hot water and locked in a cabinet for drinking the milk of their employer's children. In the same month, an employer in Bengkulu abused a domestic worker who was 13, by placing a hot iron on her skin.
Lita said that they aim to change people's perception of domestic workers, by making employers see the job as a profession. "We want people to be aware of this movement and to acknowledge the rights of domestic workers," Lita said. Lita said that ideally, domestic workers should be covered by the 2003 Labor Law. She however said that this would take a very long time. Meanwhile, she said, legal protection for domestic workers is crucially needed. That is why the group is pushing for a domestic worker's protection law.
The State Minister for Women's Empowerment is currently drafting a Domestic Worker's Protection bill. The government is planning to submit the draft in 2010. The advocacy group, however, wants the law to be considered earlier. The Jala PRT will submit their draft of a domestic worker's protection law to the House of Representatives at the end of this month. "We are aiming to have the law deliberated this year," Lita said that legal protection for domestic workers was crucially needed to stop the abuse of domestic workers.
Source: The Jakarta Post, February 16, 2009