Dilemma of recruiting domestic help from Indonesia

The problem of recruiting domestic help from Indonesia and the never-ending negotiation between government departments on both sides was the main topic these days in most gatherings I have attended. In the talks what got the most attention was the rumor that Indonesian domestic help would be returning to Saudi Arabia for a monthly salary of SR3,000, and this was described, by many families, as shocking.

For many years, people had been recruiting domestic help from Indonesia for very low salaries and many feel the sudden hike in their salaries is unwarranted. The Indonesian government only recently suspended sending domestic help to Saudi Arabia and opened negotiation with the Saudi side to improve the salaries and working condition while setting conditions, most of all, to protect their worker’s rights; a negotiation that has taken almost four years now.

I am not going to discuss in details what both sides agreed or disagreed on, but I will be commenting on what people have been saying. What was surprising to me is that most of the people I met and from reading their reaction in the newspapers and discussion forums on Internet are actually blaming the Indonesian side for their problem. It was absurd, and I had difficulty in trying to understand the justification behind blaming the other side for halting recruitment pending negotiation.

To me, their demands are legitimate. It is a decision they made concerning their own people and we have to respect it. They want their domestic help to receive better salaries similar to other countries and to have a weekly off day while setting a daily work limit of eight hours and other similar demands. And what is wrong in setting up a contractual obligation that has to be fulfilled by both the sides.

I do not think, under present day circumstances, that any domestic help, from any country, can be recruited for SR1,000 a month and expected to work 15 hours a day, seven days a week to do everything in the house, including taking care of children. In many homes, great injustice was done on these poor women who left their homes and children to earn a living.

The irony is that we have brought this on ourselves, with every country now setting conditions to send domestic help. We have earned a good reputation worldwide when it comes to abuse of domestic help and not paying them on time, if not at all. I am not generalizing here and claiming that each family is abusive, but the horrific stories of abuse always make the headlines and overshadows the good examples of families that are treating their domestic help very well.

Indonesia, or be it any other country, has every right to look after the interest of their citizens working abroad. It is a basic right in my opinion. We do not have the right to complain here or even claim that such conditions are unfair. At the same time, it is within the rights of Saudi Arabia to look elsewhere if an agreement is not reached. This is what is called the law of supply and demand.

I am not an expert here on what the monthly salary of a domestic help should be. The same way people found the expected SR3,000 a month to be inflated, they should also know that SR1,200 on offer is not enough anymore for a domestic help. In either case, people should not criticize steps taken by any country to ensure the safety of their workers.

Sadly, we have developed a reputation of being a lazy nation that is desperate to recruit people to look after us, even to get a cup of water. The very thought of not having a domestic help inside the house is a nightmare for many women. The old days are over when a mother is in control of the house and children. Now a domestic help has become a necessity in the minds of many women, working or not, who think that a house without a domestic help is a house of disaster.

It has come to such a pass that a domestic help has become nearly every family’s priority. And it has now extended to the daughters too, where they too zero in on this need when they are ready to leave their nest. Needless to mention that even new brides are stating the hiring of a domestic help as a condition because the bride is not used to doing anything in the house and needs to be served.

Maybe this problem is a wake up call for all of us to change our ways of thinking when it comes to domestic help. We should lessen our dependence on them. A domestic help is less needed in a house that is full of girls and boys who can do the household chores. I cannot understand a woman who is not working and living in a small apartment and insisting on hiring a domestic help so she could sleep for longer hours and spend most of her time outside the house.

One way, in my opinion, is to give women with families less working hours so they could work early in the morning and leave in the afternoon when children are back from school so she could attend to them and take care of the house. Those who think that a life is not complete without a domestic help are actually living in an illusion.

Instead of blaming others for problems we are facing, I think many families should take charge of their own families. A well-trained and specialized domestic help is badly needed in homes with disabled children or elderly. It is not desperately needed in a family where a woman can do the work herself or share the responsibility of the house with the husband and children

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