Domestic Disturbance

Domestic workers rallying in front of Hotel Indonesia last year. (Photo: Yudhi Sukma Wijaya, JG)

The Jakarta Globe recently ran this article, reporting on the reactions of employers to the Jakarta Municipal Government’s plan for a minimum wage for domestic workers.  The main concern expressed regarding the minimum wage regulation is the possibility that families hiring domestic workers could be priced out of hiring a maid, as well as pointing out some other forms of compensation that domestic workers receive, such a room & board.

In many ways, these are the classic arguments against minimum wage increases of any kind.  In an article in The Jakarta Post on the abuse of child domestic workers, human rights activists offer a number of answers to these concerns.

  • According to Human Rights Watch: “To the extent that policymakers believe that more families should be able to access assistance with domestic work or child care, then the government should instead consider pursuing alternative policies — such as affordable community child care, making workplaces more flexible for working parents, or more generous maternity and paternity leave — that do not depend on the exploitation and under payment of child workers.”
  • Lita Anggraini, coordinator of the National Network for Domestic Workers Advocacy (Jala PRT):  If we cannot pay the domestic worker the minimum salary, then we must fit the burden and type of job on how much we can pay…If you can only pay Rp 300,000 [per month]…then just give the worker one kind of task, like laundry — don’t also give them cooking or cleaning or the children [to look after].”  Given the current shortage of domestic workers, such provisions will make it possible for a worker to earn income from multiple employers, says Lita.
  • Wiwik Widyastuti, communications specialist at CARE Indonesia:  “Just because someone lives at your house and you’re giving them a place to live or food to eat everyday, doesn’t mean that you can exploit them. It doesn’t mean that you own them.”

Along with these points, I wonder if the amount of the proposed minimum wage itself isn’t matched in importance by the opportunity to penetrate this informal sector with regulations of any kind, protecting even the most basic conditions for humane work.  After all, according to The Jakarta Post, “One ILO survey of domestic workers in Jakarta and its outskirts found that 161 out of 173 respondents (93 percent) had experienced some form of physical abuse; 118 (68 percent) had experienced mental abuse and 73 (42 percent) indicated they suffered some form of sexual harassment or abuse.”


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