No new maids for Mid-East: Indonesia

Indonesia will stop sending new domestic workers to 21 Middle Eastern countries, a move expected to take effect in three months, government officials said.

It will also impose restrictions on the type of Indonesian foreign workers who can work in Asia-Pacific countries, including Singapore, they added.

The Manpower Ministry's director-general for labour placement and protection, Ms Reyna Usman, told The Straits Times that Indonesia wants to set up a joint working group with each Asia-Pacific country to find out the type of household task that needs to be performed and set competency standards before deciding how manpower can be supplied.

"It will no longer be 'maid', but cook, driver, babysitter, caregiver or housekeeper, and they will be trained for specific tasks," she said, adding that details are still being discussed.

She was speaking from Singapore, where she was meeting Indonesian embassy officials to assess manpower issues there.

On Monday, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri told reporters that his ministry has signed a decree to stop sending new domestic workers to the Middle East as part of a roadmap to end the supply of domestic workers by 2020.

It is a permanent move but those already working in the affected countries can continue to do so.

Some 4,700 domestic workers preparing to leave for the Middle East will be the last batch, the minister said.

The move widens an earlier ban in 2011, when Indonesia barred its women from working in Saudi Arabia after an Indonesian maid was beheaded for killing her employer who had abused her.

It is part of President Joko Widodo's declared goal of stopping Indonesian women from working as maids overseas in five years' time due to what he saw as the lack of protection for them.

He also said performing "menial tasks" for low wages lowers Indonesia's dignity.

Jakarta has long been concerned about the treatment of Indonesian domestic workers in the Middle East.

The execution of two maids Siti Zainab and Karni Medi Tarsim for murder by Saudi authorities last month angered Jakarta, which said it had not been informed beforehand.

As many as 2.3 million Indonesians are working abroad, mostly in Malaysia. Of this number, 1.2 million are illegal workers.

Previous attempts to curb Indonesians from going overseas as domestic workers had not worked.

Ms Reyna told The Straits Times the ministry is serious this time. "This is President (Joko) and he has said no more talk, but work, work, work," she said, referring to the leader's motto.

Migrant worker activists have urged caution.

"The ban is drastic. We do not hear of any consultation done with NGOs that look into the welfare of domestic workers... or whether there have been preparations for them to work elsewhere," said executive director of Migrant Care Anis Hidayah.

"These workers bring in a lot of money for the country and their choice of where to work is their basic human right."

This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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