Indonesia's Manpower Minister has clarified comments that Indonesia will stop sending maids abroad by 2019, saying the country just wants to make sure that those working overseas are properly trained as babysitters or caregivers.
"That (2019) is a government target. But it doesn't mean that we don't send at all... we send (only) skilled workers," Mr Hanif Dhakiri told reporters after meeting Vice-President Jusuf Kalla yesterday.
Citing babysitting as an example, Mr Hanif said it is considered an "informal", domestic and unskilled job. But if Indonesia can "professionalise" it by giving workers proper training, it can become a formal job, he added.
"Basically, the government has made a bold commitment to cut workers in the informal sector, and increase workers in the formal sector," the minister said.
A report in the Jakarta Globe last Friday quoted Mr Kalla as saying that Indonesia would end the practice of sending its women to work as maids abroad in five years' time. He pointed out that women from poor families have often been forced to work overseas where some are mistreated or physically abused by their employers.
Mr Kalla was speaking at a conference of the Fatayat NU, the women's branch of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Islamic organisation. He added that the agriculture and industrial sectors could be the primary source of jobs for these women in the future.
Any plan to reduce the number of women working as domestic helpers outside Indonesia would have a major impact on countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, where employers depend on them to clean house and look after young children or the elderly.
Mr Hanif noted yesterday that his predecessor Muhaimin Iskandar had said in early 2012 that Indonesia would stop sending its women to work as maids abroad by 2017, and would send only skilled workers. But there is no clear definition of what a skilled job is.
Ms Anis Hidayah, executive director of Jakarta-based Migrant Care, which promotes the welfare of migrant workers, said the work that domestic helpers, gardeners and family chauffeurs do require "skills".
"They say being a housemaid is an unskilled job. That is a stigma," she said. "Ninety per cent of 6.5 million Indonesians who work overseas are domestic workers. And they send home 87 trillion rupiah (S$9.6 billion) a year. They help the economy greatly," she told The Straits Times.
Mr Hanif promised to equip Indonesian workers with skills that allow them to get a better job.
"Nurses, for example - the need for nurses is huge overseas. But we are behind the Philippines. We have to improve our workers' skills," he said.
This article was first published on November 26, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.