Stop sending female domestic workers abroad, Indonesian president says

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Armando Torrealba/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

To preserve women’s “pride and dignity,” Indonesia’s president has called for a ban on sending its citizens to work as domestic helpers in foreign countries. If implemented, the measure could have significant implications for thousands of female expats working in Qatar.

On Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country needs to stop allowing its women to works as nannies and maids abroad.

“I have given Manpower Minister a target to come up with a clear roadmap on when we can stop sending female domestic workers. We should have pride and dignity,” Widodo said, according to a report in the Straits Times.

It is not yet clear how any such measures would affect women who are already working overseas. No additional details such as a timeline were included in the report, which noted that Indonesian politicians have called for similar measures in the past.

Indonesian embassy in Doha officials were not immediately available for comment.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Ashley/Flickr

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But an employee who answered the phone at Indonesia’s Manpower Ministry in Jakarta told Doha News that he was familiar with the president’s announcement. However, he had not been officially informed of any upcoming policy changes by his supervisor.

There are some 20,000 Indonesians working in Qatar as domestic workers, Amnesty International said last year, citing 2010 census data.

The Indonesian government’s proposal comes more than a month after Gulf states apparently abandoned efforts to adopt a GCC-wide common contract for domestic workers.

Many human rights advocates had hoped that the unified employment standards would curb the exploitation of woman working as maids, nannies and cooks in homes across the Gulf.

Qatar treatment

In recent years, Qatar’s relationship with Indonesia has been rocky.

The country temporarily banned its citizens from coming to Qatar as domestic workers in 2013, saying it could not afford to assist the three to five women who were seeking shelter at the embassy daily.

Abuse of domestic help is a big problem here, according to Amnesty. In a 2014 report titled, “My sleep is my break,” the rights gorup documented cases of psychological, physical and sometimes sexual abuse of domestic workers based in Qatar, at the hands of both local and expat sponsors.

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Amnesty International

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Domestic workers are not covered by Qatar’s labor law, making them vulnerable to several abuses, including being forced to work excessive hours and being prohibited from leaving their sponsor’s residence unaccompanied. Many have complained about their passports being confiscated and said that they were not paid on time.

Those who try to flee abusive situations often find themselves arrested on charges of absconding and are held in detention centers.

Other countries have also considered banning their citizens from coming to Qatar and neighboring countries as domestic workers in response to allegations of abuse.

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Dimitris Papazimouris/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In 2011, Nepal lifted a ban on its nationals coming to Qatar as domestic workers provided they are employed by carefully vetted sponsors.

However, recent reports of young Nepalese women being trafficked through India to Dubai suggest that bans on certain categories of overseas workers aren’t always effective.

Indeed, Widodo’s comments prompted an angry response from an advocacy organization that helps Indonesian domestic workers.

“The solution to ending the vulnerability and plight of Indonesian migrant domestic workers is for the country to actively protect its workers, not to avoid the problem and limit any form of employment,” Anis Hidayah, the executive director of Migrant Care, told the Straits Times.

The Philippines has attempted to move in this direction by introducing a mandatory minimum wage for its nationals employed as overseas domestic workers.

But Qatar responded to the salary measures by placing an unofficial ban on the issuance of new visas to Filipina domestic workers.

In 2011, the Philippines debated instituting an outright ban on allowing women to work as domestic workers in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE because of the three countries’ non-compliance with Philippines labor laws.

However, it does not appear that the ban was ever implemented.

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