For legions of the country’s unskilled work force, being hired as a domestic helper is probably as good as it gets when it comes to employment. However, an overall lack of education and legal protection puts these hard workers at risk of abuse.
But Rumpun Gema Perempuan, an organization dedicated to educating and protecting housemaids, has set out on a mission to lift up Indonesia’s domestic workers.
Established in 2000, the association runs programs aimed at domestic helpers in Jakarta, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi, with an added emphasis on reducing the numbers of children working as maids.
Selvia Haryanti, 14, who has been a domestic helper for six months, says she is excited for the chance to learn something new.
“I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but I had to drop out after I finished elementary school,” she says. “My father is an ojek [motorcycle taxi] driver and he can’t afford my education. I also have a baby brother that takes up my mother’s time. To help my parents, I have to work.”
According to the International Labor Organization, there are about 2.5 million domestic workers in Indonesia, 35 percent of which are under the age of 17, school-age children whose education was cut off by economic necessities. These youngsters often work long hours for less than minimum wage.
Through its various programs, Rumpun Gema Perempuan has given more than 350 workers the opportunity to get a formal education and learn trade skills such as tailoring, music and cooking.
“One of our goals is to cut down the number of child domestic helpers. That’s why our program focuses on house servants aged between 12-19 years old by giving them skills training,” executive director Aida Milasari says.
With ILO funding, Rumpun Gema Perempuan opened a school and training center for domestic helpers at a home in Pamulang, Tangerang, in 2009.
Seventy-five workers are currently receiving training, while 12 of these are also studying for their secondary school equivalence diploma. Classes are held on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Initially, the program was met with mixed feelings from both employers and household helpers.
“In some cases, the employer is all for their housemaid taking the afternoon course, but it’s the child [worker] that refuses to do it. On the other hand, there are employers who forbid their child helpers to take this course. It’s a shame, considering that most of the employers are well-educated,” says Munisa Noor, the assistant field manager at the Villa Pamulang Mas branch of the project.
Aida says that although some students are forced to leave the program, 75 percent manage to complete the training course.
Dyah Rofika, the Pamulang project manager, says that the program benefits both the workers and their employers.
As a result of the training, the employees have become more disciplined and professional — they no longer have to be woken in the morning or play with their mobile phones while they are working. And some employers who previously denied their workers from communicating with their families have since changed their stance.
A large amount of graduates have quit their jobs as domestic workers and used their training to secure better employment. The ILO has awarded 17 outstanding students scholarships to study at formal middle and vocational schools.
However, the campaign for rights of domestic workers still has a long way to go.
Rumpun Gema Perempuan has encouraged housemaids to form a union to strengthen their bargaining power and deal with issues like physical and sexual abuse.
The organization is also actively working to push a bill through the House of Representatives to regulate work hours, create a standard wage and secure employment contracts for housemaids.