Indonesian domestic workers and activists went on a hunger strike on Monday to protest the parliament’s delay in passing legislation to protect domestic workers.
Simultaneous sunrise-to-sunset fasting protests have been taking place in the capital Jakarta and other major cities and will be held every day until the law is passed, said Lita Anggraini of the National Advocacy Network for Domestic Workers.
“The hunger strike reflects the situation of many domestic workers in this country who do not enjoy government protection,” Anggraini said. “We call on lawmakers to enact the Domestic Workers Protection Act immediately. The more delays there are, the more workers will face violence and discrimination.”
In Jakarta, about 40 fasting activists from the Domestic Workers Alliance sat under tents in front of the parliament building. They were holding watches, pacifiers, napkins and other cleaning essentials, as well as chains, which they said symbolized the challenges faced by domestic workers in Indonesia.
Legislators first proposed a Domestic Workers Protection Bill in 2004 to address issues of discrimination, abuse and humiliation. Since then it has been updated at least three times and removed from the legislative priority list.
The legislature voted in 2020 to approve the bill in a plenary session, but House leaders declined to endorse the bill, citing “administrative reasons.”
In January, President Joko Widodo called on lawmakers to speed up deliberations on the bill as he promised to provide better protections for the country’s 4.2 million domestic workers. He tasked the Department of Law and Human Rights and the Department of Manpower to coordinate efforts to ensure the law’s timely passage.
“I hope it can come into force soon and provide better protection for domestic workers, employers and employment agencies,” Widodo said.
According to a 2015 survey by the International Labor Organization and the University of Indonesia, there are about 4.2 million domestic workers in Indonesia. That is the most worldwide, followed by India with 3.8 million and the Philippines with 2.6 million.
Domestic workers often work long hours without adequate rest or time off. They lack social security and suffer violence, economic, physical and psychological intimidation and isolation, the survey said.
84% of Indonesian domestic workers are women and 14% are children. They are often victims of exploitation and human trafficking. They are also not protected by Indonesian labor laws and regulations.
The draft law was developed with the participation of many stakeholders and includes provisions for employers and employment agencies, said Bintang Puspayoga, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.
“The bill is extremely important. It will provide legal protections for domestic workers and will disproportionately affect women and children,” Puspayoga said, adding that the bill would set the minimum age for domestic workers at 18.
The House of Representatives approved the bill in March, putting it on a list of “new bills,” suggesting it’s likely to be debated later this year. But lawmakers so far appear to be in no hurry to move the bill forward.