To protect “human values and the dignity of the nation,” the Indonesian government has announced that it will ban its nationals from working as domestic help in Qatar and 20 other countries in the Middle East.
Speaking on Monday, the country’s Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri cited the execution of two of its nationals in Saudi Arabia last month as one of the reasons for the new restrictions.
“The situation concerning our migrant workers, who were working as domestic helpers, has led to many problems such as those related to labor norms and human rights violation.
According to the law, the government has the right to stop the placement of migrant workers in particular countries if it is believed that their employment will degrade human values and the dignity of the nation,” Dhakiri is quoted by Indonesian state news agency Antara News as saying.
The ban is expected to come into effect in three months’ time, and is being imposed on any new workers applying for employment overseas. Indonesians already working abroad would not be affected.
The 21 countries covered by the ban are: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, South Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Jordan.
The minister said that “the hard policy” was being implemented in countries where the rights of employers outweigh labor policies and protections for the domestic worker.
“This culture often leads to migrant workers becoming highly dependent on their employers. It also weakens their position, their working condition and lives,” he added.
The new ban appears to make permanent a moratorium that already existed on Indonesian women working in a number of states in the region. It was introduced in Saudi Arabia in June 2011, after an Indonesian national was beheaded there without informing Jakarta. The woman had admitted to killing her employer.
The temporary ban was also later extended to other countries including the UAE, Syria, Kuwait and Jordan.
In 2013, Indonesia also temporarily banned its citizens from working in Qatar as domestic helpers, saying it could not afford to assist the three to five women who were seeking shelter at the embassy daily who were fleeing abusive work environments.
A number of Gulf countries, including Qatar, have a sponsorship system in place that prevents an employee from leaving the country without their sponsor’s approval.
Almost a year ago, Qatar announced it would reform its kafala system, but the proposed changes stopped short of eradicating the exit permit requirement.
Earlier this week, the country’s Labor Minister said he “hoped” that the changes to the law would be made before the end of this year.
The Indonesian minister’s announcement echoes a similar statement made in February by the Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who called for an end to his country sending women abroad to work as housemaids and nannies, although no timeline had been mentioned.
“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 at the time, according to a report in the Straits Times.
In an editorial, the Jakarta Post described the latest ban as “unrealistic” and warned that it would drive the emigration process underground, leaving Indonesian women even more open to exploitation.
“The minister rightly cited the vulnerability of women to abuse in the private space of employers, but it is the task of the state to facilitate the right of citizens to work while constantly working to improve their protection.
A moratorium would be the better option instead of banning people working anywhere. Labor agencies with decades of experience in the Middle East could easily continue to recruit workers illegally, making our migrant workers even more prone to abuse,” the newspaper said.
It added that a lack of opportunities back home drive many Indonesians to seek employment in the Middle East.
Indonesians in Qatar
Qatar is home to around 20,000 Indonesians working in domestic roles, Amnesty International said last year, citing 2010 census data.
Domestic workers are vulnerable in part because they are not protected under the country’s Labor Law. There is no legal restriction on the maximum number of days a week or hours each day they can work.
“The fact that Indonesia has taken the drastic step of enforcing this ban speaks to how desperate the situation is,” Amnesty research Mustafa Qadri told Doha News.
“The ban reflects how serious the situation has become for migrant labour in the Gulf. The GCC states must urgently address the chronic abuse and absence of labour law protections for (tens of thousands) of domestic workers who are especially vulnerable to physical, sexual and other (forms of) violence.”
Last month, the case of an Indonesian woman working in Qatar who was hospitalized for several days with injuries she said were inflicted by her employer drew outrage.
The 25-year-old woman told Doha News she fled her sponsor’s home after being beaten by the metal end of a hose. Numerous scars, abrasions and scabs were visible on the woman’s back, arms, shoulders, stomach and face. She said they were the result of nearly two years’ of abuse at the hands of her employer.
The woman was later discharged from Hamad Hospital, but her status in Qatar remains unconfirmed.
Women who flee abusive situations here risk being caught by police. Labeled as “runaways,” they are then locked up in detention centers for months at a time while they await deportation.
Amnesty International’s 2014 report “My sleep is my break,” details cases of physical, psychological and sometimes sexual abuse inflicted on domestic workers by expat and local sponsors in Qatar.
For years, Qatar and other Gulf countries have been considering introducing a unified domestic workers’ contract, which would have stipulated basic working rights for women employed as household help in all the signatory states.
During a meeting in November last year, it appeared that the single contract was close to coming into effect. However, labor ministry representatives from various states later back-tracked, reportedly saying they didn’t have the authority to introduce any binding changes.