Thursday, September 21, 2006

Govt prepares bill to protect domestic workers

The Jakarta Post

National News - September 07, 2006

The government is drafting a law on domestic workers that is aimed at providing legal protection from widespread exploitation.

The draft, now under discussion with all involved parties before it is brought before national legislators, guarantees the rights of housemaids as informal workers, after many years when their employers could do as they wished.

Their rights will be guaranteed from the moment they are recruited by labor supplying agencies and during their employment. But critics say the bill is deficient in not mandating severe punishment for anyone who exploits or abuses maids.

Housemaids can be recruited by labor suppliers or by their prospective employers, with the main requirement that they are trained in household chores to ensure they meet job requirements before they start. Also included in the category of "housemaids" are babysitters and caregivers for the elderly.

Like those working overseas, the bill mandates that domestic workers would be entitled to a monthly payment, annual bonus, days off and knowledge enhancement to improve their productivity. It also states they should be able to maintain communication with their family, to unionize, perform their religious obligations and receive labor and health protection.

Working hours are set at eight hours a day, with the right to take a rest period. They also can have one day off a week, and take annual leave of at least 12 days.

Because of different conditions among regions, the minimum wage for domestic workers will be set by local administrations through bylaws.

On their part, housemaids are required to have professional skills, maintain good conduct, protect the employer family's privacy and security, as well as notify their employer and/or recruitment agency at least 15 days before they resign.

The director general for labor inspection at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, Maruddin Simanihuruk, said housemaids were treated separately from the formal workforce because their employment was family-based and industrial relations did not apply.

"The bill is a lex specialis (special law) because household jobs have their unique characteristics which do not need detailed regulations. They stay with their employers. Living together with them makes them dependent, allowing them to save their monthly salary but simultaneously leaving them prone to abuse."

Despite all the special characteristics, he said, the sector could be regulated to ensure mutual benefits to workers and their employers, and to avoid unwanted incidents.

In cases of exploitation, harassment and disputes, the bill allows domestic workers to report the incidents to their employers' neighborhood chief, or go to court, for settlement.

The housemaids' right to unionize will allow their associations or unions to help provide advocacy for their members, Maruddin said, referring to the Domestic Workers Union in Yogyakarta.

He said the bill carried no physical sanctions against any violation of the agreement between housemaids and their recruiting agencies, or any violation of the labor relationship between workers and their employers because the job was informal.

"To protect housemaids from human trade and abuse, the government has enforced the domestic violence law and will apply the human trafficking bill which is being deliberated by the House of Representatives."

The two laws could be used to prosecute abusive employers for committing crimes in their workplace, he said.

Maruddin hoped the long-awaited bill, which has received support from the National Commission for Protection of Women and Children and women's rights organizations, would soon be submitted to the House, and enacted in 2007. (JP/Ridwan Max Sijabat)

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