The honeymoon phase is over, people! Ovar! *Flips table*
Had a pretty sweet MLK Day (I know the domestic workers cause is more about labour rights and class, but it’s still a human rights issue). Guess I ‘celebrated’ a bit and let myself be pleased for a while (I don’t remember being so smug since the newly elected president appointed a woman as Minister of Foreign Affairs just a month after some sexist old fart told me and two other ladies that women shouldn’t be diplomats on September 28). I’ve never had any of my causes work out, this is a first for me. So it’s kind of a big deal. I don’t take it for granted either, because I know some people work their whole lives for causes and never see much change happen in their lifetime. And it’s been ages (this is the cause I picked up on my first job ever since graduating from university-level education). Even then, I was still late to the party, and there are people who have been advocating for domestic workers’ rights since forever, I can’t imagine how elated they must have been.
I found out about the Labour Ministry’s Regulation over dinner, with one of my parents—who informed me about it, since I’ve abstained from the reading/watching any form of news since the World Cup 2014 to avoid the stupid:
Seriously, I can’t even trust the BBC and Al-Jazeera anymore. And those two used to be the better ones. SMH.
But, I’m done being happy and now I can finally whine about it (it’s like I was born to whine). Because I’m not too impressed with what I see. And, no, it’s not as pwetty as I made it out to be. There’s a lot to complain about!
1. “The Help” Work
Couldn’t find the actual regulation initially. Thankfully an old friend at Jala PRT had a copy and kindly emailed it to me (thank you). My other friend from Gema Perempuan only had a hardcopy and offered to share (thank you too). The copy I was given from Jala PRT was dated January 17 (as indicated in the file name of this original MS Word copy) and emailed to me on January 22.
It seems the Ministry’s only released the actual regulation (or a brief about it) to the press, and let journalists interpret the thing. Which is perfect for the Ministry because journalists aren’t don’t seem overly excited about critical-thinking (doubt they’re even aware of the flaws at all) and some of them even still use the term “pembantu” (helper) instead of “pekerja” (worker). Ugh. Which is problematic because it fosters the mindset that people born into wealth and privilege are entitled to “the help” (house staff) while those from underprivileged backgrounds are destined to serve the former. And we really can’t afford to have people still swimming in this mindset that it’s a birthright/entitlement to have “help” while some people are just ‘born into’ a lower ‘caste’ and should accept that it’s where they should remain. Really, it’s sort of in line with the line of thinking that “well, if you were born as a human being of African-descent, then you were just destined to be a slave”.
It’s not trivial because we’re trying to shift people’s mindsets from the fatalist notions they had about class and begin to acknowledge, at a very fundamental level, the status of domestic workers as “workers” (i.e. people who offer services in exchange for remuneration) not a god-given right to people who were born into the middle and upper classes whom you can treat as you please. A job can be a choice, or something you do out of lack of options and opportunities, and that should be respected. They’re no different from any other labourers and they certainly do not deserve all that unfair portrayal in Indonesian film and television. Nor do they deserve negative stereotypes or have their profession be used to describe a certain ‘look’.
If I ran my own non-profit, I swear I would allocate like a ginormous chunk of the budget into media training. I’d even have my own in-house “media watch” officer to patrol the media and nitpick these things. I don’t think people appreciate the level of damage ignorant journalism can cause and the level of positive impact and change the simple tweaking of the use of the word “pekerja” as opposed to “pembantu”. I just don’t get it with journalism these days, like when journalists seem to enjoy talking more about journalists than actually practicing journalism, you know you’ve got it all wrong. Journalists are so quick to diss and discount bloggers—because we all apparently live in our mothers’ basements, but they themselves behave like bloggers instead of professionals. It’s almost like they want to be us (either that, or they’re Daniel Pearl wannabes). I say: If you want to talk about yourself and make it all about you, start a blog, but stick to the news when you’re on the news job.
So inept. If I were still an actress and I accidentally became famous, I would only do syndicated interviews in written form—pool all submitted questions and answer in a master document, in uneditable PDF format (and, after embargos and copies sold out, I’d still always publish the original unedited, uncut version on my own website because I would never let them get away with misquotes—I would shoot them down for it). I have nearly no respect left for journalists, but if you promise to start referring to domestic workers as ‘pekerja’ instead of ‘pembantu’, you’ll at least have some dignity left in my books. Oh, and: RIP William Miller. Innocence was his essence, and when he lost it, he died. Oh, I ramble!
Okay, enough about terminology.
The regulation wasn’t been made available online, but even just judging from what news I found online—and one news piece that a parent sent me, you could tell the thing is flawed. Like, at a fundamental level. So here’s my review of the bits that I like and the ones I have issues with:
2. The Good
Let’s start with the purdy stuff:
- Article 4 (b): They’re making it illegal for under 18’s to work as domestic workers (win). With the minimum age set, there should be no more child domestic workers working full-time when they should be at school—though I would recommend they build upon ILO guidelines on workers aged 13–15 dan 15–17 in the garment industry, which I’ve elaborated in the Bahasa Indonesia version. Although I’m not sure of my own recommendation with this one, I’ll try to discuss with people who know better than me and I might have to edit what I’ve drafted in version 1.0 later on if I learn something new. Domestic work isn’t exactly an afterschool flipping burgers or working in retail as working in an adult’s private residence can get pretty dangerous.
- Article 7 (a–i, with the exception of letter c): Rights to information on employer, humane treatment, proper food and shelter, rest, days off based on contract/agreement, holiday bonus, right to communicate with family (although they missed the right to socialise).
- Article 11 (a–i): A bunch of employer obligations. Letter (g) concerns social security—I recommended an Annex or bylaw to explain the technicalities. Who’s mainly responsible for it? Are we talking about something government sponsored, along the lines of Jamsostek or is it the employer’s responsibility, something like private insurance that could potentially put employers off? Elaborate.
- Article 22: Agencies are prohibited from charging “fees” from the workers. Obviously.
- Article 26 (sections 1–2): Increased government and community (RT, rukun tetangga) monitoring of agencies, with explicit mention of doing so for the prevention of violence/abuse against domestic workers.
But let’s not dwell not that and focus on what needs to be fixed. If you’re so inclined to see the positive points, details here.
3. The Semi-Bad (Meh)
- Article 4 (c): This letter is kind of lame (I don’t get why you need to have your spouse’s permission to take on a job). Now, normally, I’d complain about how backward this is, but I classified this under ‘neutral’ because it lists “husband” slash “wife” (as in it goes both ways). I’ll at least show some appreciation to the fact that they incorporated/mainstreamed gender equality here (because normally with Indonesians, it’s women getting permission from men but not the other way around. Ick). Sushi millinery off. The standard spelling (EYD) for the word “istri” isn’t “isteri”, by the way. Millinery back on.
- Article 9 (a): Employers are required have a steady income. I’m not sure most business people and freelancers/contractors do? I know this article is for the protection of domestic workers (to ensure they get paid for their work). But maybe employers with less stable/high-risk jobs can be allowed shorter contracts with the domestic workers (three months-ish). Or add a clause that would enable domestic workers to leave post in case of wanprestasi (wanprestatie) on the employer’s side?
- Article 12: Agencies require a renewable permit from the local government (I smell opportunities for corruption, sounds super prone to bribery).
- Article 15: No fees should be charged for the registration/issuance of permits for agencies. My only recommendation would be to add the word “apapun” (any) at the end. Because you know how these sleazy public service types are with all their ‘biaya lain’ and ‘pungutan liar’. Phew.
- Article 27 (sections 1–2): Governor or other appointed authority may impose ‘administrative sanctions’ (three types were listed, no mentions of fines—but I’d still say this would be prone to bribery, I’m thinking of ways to eliminate the possibility any of the three types can be twisted into corruption schemes).
Also, it drives me nuts how these Ministries fail to use the Oxford comma and use proper standardised Indonesian spelling, though (if I were a lawyer, I assure you, I would nitpick on that stuff… I’m not above invalidating stuff over that stuff! Would I destroy a man’s entire life over an Oxford comma? Absof*ckinglutely).
4. The Bad
- Article 5: Obligation to enter in a written or verbal contract. Seriously, WTF? Indonesia has had a literacy rate of 93% (possibly even higher this year). If a potential worker cannot read/write, maybe some government-sponsored legal aid would be helpful? Legal representation and witness? Seriously, verbal contracts make them as vulnerable as workers without a contract and that puts the workers back to square one. Not cool.
- Article 7 (c): Wage based on agreement. No explicit mention of “minimum wage”.
- Article 9 (c): A precondition for employing domestic workers is “sehat jasmani dan rohani” (physically and mentally fit—I hate when Indonesians use this. Why? WTH). I’m not one to defend employers in a regulation meant for the protection of workers, but this is just ableist. Aren’t the disabled and chronically ill the most needy sub-group of employers? And without that market, a chunk of the workforce would be left unemployed. In the end, it’s a disadvantage to the workers.
5. And… The Truly Fugly
- Article 1 (sections 1 and 3): I cannot believe this: They define domestic workers as workers who work in a household and receive remuneration in the form of “wages and/or remuneration in other forms”. I can’t even with these people.
- Article 3: Basically this regulation “respects tradition, [local] culture, and convention/customs which apply”. This clause basically cancels out the entire regulation, okay? The. Entire. Thing. It makes the entire regulation pointless. It’s like saying, “actually we weren’t mocking your embarrassing first role… Oh! Just kidding, we totally were.” It’s cruel. So essentially every little thing I just listed above can be revoked in the name of “respecting local cultures and customs”.
Those are like the most easily exploited loopholes known to mankind. Great.
The problem with the definition of domestic workers in Article 1 is that employers can always use the excuse that they paid their domestic worker in ‘another form’, whatever form they chose. I may have suggested a temporary government scheme where school-aged domestic workers can work part-time (maximum amount of hours permitted strictly limited) in exchange for paid-for tuition until the government can get around providing 100% free basic education (but this would have to be monitored like crazy because it’s also prone to abuse/exploitation like crazy) in my Indonesian notes. But that would have to be managed in a manner that would prevent those not in the education scheme from using that as an excuse to not pay monetary wages.
My recommendation? Omit the entire “atau imbalan dalam bentuk lain” line (or just the word ‘atau’ if you’re feeling brave).
Am I overreacting about Article 3? Nope. And I’m not just saying this because Indonesia is so classist that the first time I imagined what an upstairs-downstairs drama would look like in Javanese, I choked on lemon beer and ended up with lemon running out my nostrils because I LMAO-ed so hard. And, yes, I do understand what ‘cultural relativism’ means, but I’m also sensitive enough to recognise when a fellow Indonesian uses ‘Indonesian culture’ to excuse and justify a human rights violation. And I am Indonesian myself and I’ve lived a great chunk of my life in this country and I’ve experienced it firsthand, so I am in a position to judge.
If you want a concrete example of just how ‘custom’ can be used to justify exploitation, read page 36 of this Human Rights Watch report on Child Domestic Workers.
My recommendation? Get rid of the entire article. It’s a joke. You’ve wasted time, energy, not to mention taxpayers’ money to draft a regulation only to add a clause that cancels out the whole thing and makes it useless in its entirety? Are you people out of your mind? What is wrong with you?!
Another thing I would suggest IRT definitions is to distinguish types of domestic workers, in an annex preferably, for better wage classification: maid, nanny (not to be confused with ‘babysitter’), governess (yes, that’s still a thing. LOL), gardeners, pool boys, runners, and so on. This would help set proper wages for each type of worker based on their job descriptions and responsibilities, as well as mechanisms for on-off jobs (for instance, how to pay a freelance gardener that comes in only once a week to trim your bush poodles).
The lack of even an implicit mention of “minimum wage” bothers me to not end.
Huh. That’s funny. Because I swear some of the news reports actually mentioned a couple of figures. The fact is, in no part of the regulation are these figures mentioned (do your homework, journalists). And yet these news sites made it out like it these standards were stipulated by the regulation, like it was legally binding. Is the ministry misleading journalists in their press brief, or is this simply a case of journalists doing that thing that made me quit reading the news? Is there some sort of implementative bylaw or an annex that I should be aware of?
The minimum wages reported were IDR1.2 million for housemaids and IDR2 million for nannies. Both are not even appropriately above the minimum wage, as they should be. And even if they were, they’d only be appropriate… For now.
I also think that this rate, whatever it was set by, could go outdated rather quickly—explicit standards like that can never keep up with inflation, especially with increasing living costs in major cities. A possible solution would be by using percentages (to a fixed central or regional minimum wages/fines rate to set wages/fines standards) in legal instruments. The percentage would be set at a central level by the Ministry (not a Dinas Ketenagakerjaan—although the Dinas level should be more knowledgeable when it comes to setting a regional minimum wage) and especially not organisations prone to conflict-of-interest and vested interests like Asosiasi Pelatihan Pekerja Seluruh Indonesia (APPSI).
For instance, instead of explicitly stating a figure like IDR X million, it should say “162% of the current applicable regional minimum wage” for nannies, “100% for housemaids”, and 250% for another type, and so on (and in no case should it ever be set below 100%). So if the current minimum wage in a given region is X, then nannies within that jurisdiction would get paid 162% that amount. Ranges can also be used within the same category, for instance (200–300% for nannies, so new nannies would be paid twice the minimum wage, while experienced nannies or the ones specialising in special needs children can be paid thrice the minimum wage, although of course the higher-end of the range should not be confused with a ‘maximum limit’ and employers should be allowed to pay more if they wish).
It keeps legal instruments relevant to the times and up-to-date without having to update. Amendments are costly and require time and energy for socialisation efforts and such, this is more efficient. There should be a “master fine” as well, say the Master Fine is IDR1,200,000. Minor traffic violations are 10% of the current rate, human trafficking can be >10,000 % that current rate, not paying your domestic worker the minimum wage would cost 500% of that fine plus 110% of the wages you owe her/him. It would all just sync and adjust beautifully… But IDK, that’s just me. Maybe because I grew-up watching stuff like “Fantasia”?
Lawmakers just lack sense of art, don’t they? According to a friend of mine, litigators tend to commit the gravest of fashion crimes—and I tend to agree, they are rather ‘flairy’, you know: garish and flamboyant—and now she’s compelled to write an entire fashion guidebook targeted specifically at litigation lawyers. Thank goodness they make barristers wear gowns and wigs, their natural fashion sense is atrocious (I’m more of a solicitor type myself). My Lord, I digress.
How lawmakers draft law and regulations without taking inflation into account is beyond me. I mean seriously, we still have laws that fine people like IDR1,000 per violation? The f-word? I could make being a career criminal a legitimate business with fines like that! I’d just account it as “administration costs” on my ledger and my accountant would be LOL-ing the entire fiscal year.
6. How We Can Make It Stop Being Ugly
There’s hope: This is after all a Ministry Regulation. It’s not an Act, and the domestic workers advocates who actually do this advocating full-time are still trying to have an Act drafted and passed. Petition here.
This is the light at the end of the tunnel because, as we’ve seen above, there are some pretty awful things and require improvement.
That said, epically flawed as it is, I do applaud the Minister for having the guts to even pass the regulation. No doubt, there must be people in his own Ministry who are against it because they themselves employ domestic workers. This one Parliamentarian is even against the regulation, focusing on random technicalities to question its legitimacy, and ends her media statement with complaints about maids “in practice” stealing and kidnapping employers’ children for ransom, and is overwhelmingly obsessed in the protection of employers (doesn’t even appear to be paying attention to the actual contents of the regulation about the workers). And she’s from the ruling coalition which, frankly, makes her (but not necessarily the ruling coalition) look sad. What the—? I can’t tell if it’s coalition in-fighting or just upper-class people being annoying—and I don’t want to comment on that, but it’s a bloody disgrace!
I also like that the new government’s considering ratifying ILO C189 Domestic Worker’s Convention. The best thing about it is that you know how the government’s always making their lame “but we’re a developing country” excuse? Well the Philippines signed that in 2012, I rest my case.
So, ja. Domestic workers are an obsession (LOL. Literally I woke-up from a dream about the telenovela “Devious Maids” this morning—in which Carmen and a narcissist played around with a water balloon and a bunch of needles, my nannies when I was little used to watch telenovelas). But it started when I worked for an NGO that did a report on domestic workers. My first job post-graduation was a job that started as an interpreter/translator job, but then expanded into for an independent New York-based human rights organisation. It started off as an interpreter gig (that’s what it officially says in the credits), but by the end of the job, I was allowed to say that I worked as a “Research Assistant, Translator, Interpreter, Workshop Coordinator, and Treasurer” on my CV. I love when that happens (and it’s not CV ‘padding’, but de facto expansion). Plus, I got a letter of recommendation that made me bawl (because I didn’t know what ‘reference letters’ were and had no idea that they were supposed to sound like that! LOL). Such a crybaby.
Another labour-related interest I have is sexual minorities (especially the less invisible ones like trans people, just something I noticed when I volunteered for an LGBTIQ film festival). It’s always piqued my interests, the question: Are trans individuals generally just drawn to certain lines of work, or do they just ‘fall into place’ because they have no other options (due to discrimination and persecution in what would have been their honest choice of work). Because I know this one trans person from my alma mater, I learned this circa 2002, had to seek asylum and settle in the Bay Area to be able to work as an architect (meanwhile, my hetero cisgender cousin easily established himself in Indonesia despite zero connections—to be fair, he works in Singapore and Dubai too now, but it wasn’t hard for him to start in Indonesia).
That said, and I have to mention this, “Western civilization” isn’t as ‘progressive’ as Westerners make their own culture out to be: Never forget the fact that colonialism introduced anti-gay laws to otherwise LGBTIQ-friendly societies in The Empire’s colonies. Because that’s a truth and that totally happened and there’s nothing you can do to deny it. So don’t go around mocking people from developing countries and acting like “Western civilization” is all so progressive, because that’s not the truth. Never forget. And there’s nothing you can do to deny it because that is a factual happening, and those laws, in many cases of the former-colonies, have not been revoked. And yet, you have English people signing petitions because Afghani women are supposedly ‘backward’ or whatever? No. Just no. Sit down, learn your own country’s history and then read-up about cultural relativism. You’re not better than us, we’re all equal here. If anything, your pathetic delusions of being “the superior, more civilized civilization” makes you all the more backward.
I get attached to stuff. Which is why I think it’s a good idea that I quit acting because, like, I get attached. Like, it was my biggest fear ever (of becoming another person and being unable to reverse it). I realised this when I began reading the second acting book—because that’s when I truly realised what kind of mind games I’d be playing on myself (I’ve always had personas, when you’re unconventional, you have to have them as an automatic built-in defence mechanism—but acting isn’t just playing a persona). First my heart would pound like crazy, because the idea of turning into another person and having that be irreversible was just terrifying (for the same reason, despite being really self-conscious about my looks, I’m not interested in plastic surgery—imagine looking into the mirror and seeing a stranger… Scariest thing ever! I could never handle it, I’d rather be considered unattractive). I literally found myself sobbing at the thought. And I asked a teacher about it and he’s all like, “DDL [who text messaged as Lincoln] can shake his characters off afterwards.” And I’m like, “but I’m not him! Just because he can detach doesn’t mean I can!” Ugh, what am I saying? That’s when it really hit me what I was getting myself into.
I just have this really unfortunate propensity to get overly attached (and tunnel-vision and fixate) to things in life. I was just built that way. Every job I take left a scar, I get marked in every single one of them because I get overly attached to stuff. And every job I have leaves a mark on me. Even a brief internship can have me attached to causes like Papua and they sort of stick. That’s a very unhealthy trait t have, but it’s cool when it comes to causes. Because i don’t just ‘ditch’ causes (which is how it’s supposed to be). I guess I was really destined to be an aid worker and not an actress. I don’t even need to be an important part of a team to get attached to things, even an unpaid internship that lasted five months left a mark on me.
Likewise, it never really took a real role for things to stick—under the condition that I’m given enough time to prep (I’m starting to think all those cold-readings were a blessing in disguise). Once I auditioned for the role of Sheila Birling and, a few months later, I found myself tweeting anonymously as Sheila Birling to… Oprah about that shop assistant who allegedly treated her badly in Zurich. It’s really sick. Now I’m so glad I had to quit acting (God, I can’t believe I just set this site up in October 2014 and already I’m blogging about acting in the past tense).
So while that would have counted as a weakness, and liability, if I were to become an actress, it’s a huge a strength (or at least positive strait) IMO if you’re an aid worker. Because isn’t it just sad when people ditch causes?
Pursuing acting was getting really unhealthy for me in many other ways anyway. For a while in 2014, I was fixated on my anger about people using slavery as an awards-bait (to make matters worse, I found the campaign during awards season distasteful, the campaign’s approach and tone demeaning toward people of colour). I was so angry with the filmmakers for exploiting people’s suffering like that, that I actually developed racist/prejudiced feelings that I didn’t have before. I’ve barely started and already I’m a disaster. Then I became obsessed with the use of the n-word—which I have never uttered in my life, mind you—and the insides of my brain became so, so bizarre… I’ve been absolutely terrified that I might blurt out the n-word—especially since posting my “Bridge-Burning Blog: 5&1” post in December 2014—that it became my main source of paranoia for the last fortnight of January 2015. My main fear was that one day, it might slip and everyone would me mad at me for it (rightly so). It’s like, now whenever I see a person of African-descent my mind automatically races into, “don’t say the n-word, don’t say the n-word” (not because I’d actually say it as a slur, but just this irrational fear of being offensive) but the more I tell myself not to, the more I feel it closer to the tip of my tongue that I’d literally have to bite it sometimes. Because the n-word would just float in my head, and it just wouldn’t stop (trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to mind-meld me). I can’t imagine what it must be like for people with Tourette’s… I truly feel for them now. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d be convinced I was a major racist in my past life. Totally. And all of this happened as a result of me just being an observer, trying to learn how the industry works—not something I actually had to act out on the job. I just can’t be an actress anymore. Acting isn’t right for me. I’m far more constructive and productive as an aid worker.
And then I whine and whine about the unfortunate SAG-wannabes (who appear to be the exact ‘sok iyeh’ type of human beings that would treat their own domestic workers like dirt) but then I look at these domestic workers and they have it much worse than I’ve ever had in my life ever, and I feel like “following dreams” or my silly obsession with five roles off a bucket list just feels really petty in comparison. I mean everyone needs a hobby, but hobbies aren’t supposed to fry your brain and mess you up psychologically.
I gets emotional about my causes. Sorry. Not sorry.
∞. “Watch this space.”
I also have some other work-related news to share, but I can’t share it now. I might tell later, when I’m allowed to (and I will post it here, below, as an update). But all I can say for now is: Thank you for making fun of my first role. Thank you for giving me the life perspective that enabled me to take better opportunities and wiser career choices… Instead of risking more of my precious life’s time on endeavors like acting which can only lead to even more humiliation. Which you will only laugh at all over again. I’m glad I only wasted 18 months of my life on that BS. Mock my acting work all you want, but in the end of the day: My real-life prestige roles will be better than your pretend prestige roles. Thank you for mocking me and knocking some sense into me, Lemon.
Last updated: February 2, 2015 (might proofread later, kind of busy now)