Zooming in on Justice during COVID-19: Migrant Domestic Workers’ Rights in Indonesia

April 8, 2021
Category: Partnerships | Training & Workshops

Indonesian domestic workers make up over half of domestic workers abroad in Singapore and Hong Kong. With Covid-19 challenges on the rise for these vulnerable workers, JWB convened an online discussion in Indonesia with partners in Indonesia to better coordinate action for those in need. 

In November 2020, we gathered with Komnas Perempuan, the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Indonesia for a discussion focused on Realities and Access to Justice for Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore and Hong Kong. The public discussion was held over Zoom and streamed LIVE on JWB’s Facebook Page, and featured more than 66 participants from across the country.   

Formed in 1998, Komnas Perempuan is a non-governmental organisation fighting for and upholding Indonesian women’s human rights, with a special focus on addressing gender-based violence. A large majority of the Komnas Perempuan, and SBMI, community are migrant domestic workers currently employed abroad or who have previously worked in Singapore and Hong Kong.  The discussion’s goal was to educate workers, their families, union members, paralegals and the community about their legal rights and shed light on the vulnerabilities workers face. The event supported the United Nations’ International Campaign “16 Days of Gender Activism against Gender-Based Violence”. 

“As we faced challenges in conducting activities due to Covid-19, JWB encountered a wonderful opportunity to conduct this training online and hence, make our events more accessible to join from all over the region. One of our main priorities is raising awareness of migrant domestic workers’ rights and how they can still pursue compensation even after returning home.“, said JWB’s Indonesia Head of Office, Salsa.

Expanding JWB’s partnership beyond front-line organisations that work directly with migrant domestic workers, the collaboration with Komnas Perempuan brought in stakeholders from the broader women’s rights arena. Tiasri Wandami, Commissioner of Komnas Perempuan, and Maizidah Salas, Education Coordinator from SBMI, both highlighted that the lack of access to official information and the large number of illegal agencies are just some of the major issues facing migrant domestic workers from Indonesia. Both speakers also mentioned that there is no information service available, at the village level, for safe migration. This leaves workers to rely on alternative sources that may not always be accurate or reliable.

“With the lack of access to official information, these women rely heavily on alternative sources such as social media, community members or middlemen.” 

Yudhi Ardian of the Indonesian Ministry of Affairs (MoFA) spoke of how the ongoing pandemic has impacted workers abroad. In particular, he highlighted the increased risk to workers of finding themselves stranded in their host country, facing the possibility of sudden termination from work. Yudhi further explained the role of the Representative of the Republic of Indonesia in assisting workers who may find themselves in this precarious situation – 

  • Socialisation of Self-Reporting – the use of the PeduliWNI & Safe Travel app where MDW’s are required to update their information and travel details so that organisations can better respond to emergencies should they need assistance.
  • Assistance to Nationals- direct support to Indonesians abroad.
  • Shelter – providing a place for migrant domestic workers to stay temporarily if they find themselves stranded abroad, unable to return home due to COVID-19 and;
  • Hotline – available locally abroad for workers who face emergencies or need support. 

Yudhi further emphasised that providing access to shelter for migrant domestic workers stuck in limbo due to COVID-19  should be the highest priority for governments in home and host countries.

Despite movement restrictions during Covid-19, there is much that organizations on the ground can do to raise awareness and coordinate support. This event brought together key stakeholders who can help facilitate much needed support for workers abroad, and help them seek justice, after they return home. 

“After seeing the enthusiasm from the participants and the fruitful discussions, we plan to have online public discussions like this again in the future!” – Salsa, JWB Indonesia Head of Office