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III. Pre-Departure Abuses in Indonesia

The agent came to my house and promised me a job in a house in Malaysia, where I would earn two hundred ringgit [U.S.$52.63] per month.  I would not have to pay anything, they would prepare my passport and would cut my salary for the first four months.  I wanted to get the experience and to earn money.  The agent promised to send me to Malaysia in one month, but [kept me locked in] the labor recruiter’s office for six months.  I couldn’t go out.  Many people, even if they got hurt or wanted to leave, they weren’t allowed out.  I think one or two hundred people were there.  The food wasn’t enough, they gave it twice a day.  The gate was locked.  I wanted to go back home.  There were two or four guards, they carried big sticks.  They would just yell.  They would sexually harass the women.  There were lots of girls there too [who suffered the same treatment].
—Interview with Fatma Haryono, age thirty, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004

Licensing of Labor Recruiters and Suppliers

Labor agencies control most aspects of migrant workers’ recruitment, foreign work permit applications, training, transit, and placement with an employer with little or no oversight from either the Indonesian or Malaysian government.  Indonesia requires that a domestic worker migrating legally find employment overseas through a licensed labor agency that helps her apply for a passport; obtain a temporary employment visa; obtain medical clearance; pay insurance and other fees; and learn housekeeping, child care, and language skills.  Over four hundred licensed labor agencies operate in Indonesia, with countless more operating illegally.  The four hundred licensed recruitment agencies generate an estimated U.S.$2 billion a year in revenue by charging migrants U.S.$1,500 each to migrate abroad, and some collect additional fees.56 

The requirements for becoming a “housemaid” recruiter or supplier in either country are simply that the company be legally registered with the government and have a certain amount of financial viability, measured by their meeting minimum standards on the size of their bank accounts.57  Aside from basic specifications on the accommodations for domestic workers who stay at the center for training, there are no guidelines or requirements on the quality of their services or the background or qualifications of their staff. 

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration issues licenses to labor agencies.  Once an agency has a license, they do not have to undergo a review to renew it periodically.  If the Ministry discovers the agency has been cheating workers or breaking the regulations, they can cancel or suspend the license.  Since the Ministry does not monitor labor suppliers regularly or rigorously, the identification and penalization of agencies committing abuses is rare.  Furthermore, NGOs report that owners and employees of suspended recruitment agencies may ignore the penalty and continue their operations by setting up new agencies under different company names and partner configurations.58  One government official from the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration noted that the government has limited power to sanction such agencies:

So far we have canceled eighteen licenses, and some are under suspension.  Some of these companies had fake documents, for example, they had no bank deposit, and others took money from workers and didn’t send them overseas.  In our next bill, we hope to cover illegal recruitment….  Our power is only to cancel or suspend the license, or use their deposit to pay the worker….  In the new bill, we need to be able to give the penalty of prison time, because right now we don’t have enough power.59

Pre-Departure Process and Transit

Women migrating to Malaysia for domestic work often first come into contact with a local labor recruiter from their village who promises them a certain salary, presents them with employment options, and offers to guide them through the recruitment process.  These agents often receive a commission from larger labor agencies or extract a fee from the prospective migrant worker.  These agents may help the worker get a health exam for medical clearance and a passport before they pass them on to a labor supplier in Jakarta or a transit point.

Malaysian law requires all migrant workers be tested for pregnancy, human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), and other infections like malaria and tuberculosis before they arrive in Malaysia.  The workers either pay for this health exam or the cost is included in their initial salary deduction.  Employers and labor agents often re-test them upon arrival in Malaysia, as they have little faith that the documents from Indonesia are reliable.  Prospective workers who test positive will be denied entry or deported if they test positive for pregnancy, HIV, tuberculosis (TB), malaria, leprosy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or drug use.  One domestic worker, Nur Hasana Firmansyah, told Human Rights Watch,

I took a full medical exam, with a blood and urine test.  They did not give me the results, they just told me I was “fit.”  I also took another exam in Jakarta.  Pregnant women failed.  They were sent back home, but if they wanted an abortion they could stay.  Two girls had an abortion and three girls went back home.60

Most women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they did not receive any information specifying the health conditions for which they were being tested.  There were no procedures for protecting the confidentiality of test results, and generally the health clinic gave the exam results directly to the labor agent.  Human Rights Watch found no official policy concerning counseling or care for those who test positive for STIs or other illnesses.  Government officials, labor agents, NGOs, and domestic workers said that women who were pregnant were sent home, or in a few cases, given the option of getting an abortion.61  In a few isolated cases, some workers who tested positive for HIV during their medical exams in Indonesia were referred to an Indonesian NGO that provides services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.62

While other migrants who seek employment in plantations, factories, and construction often pay large fees up front, many women choose domestic work because there is no initial fee.  Instead, they agree to have the first four or five months of their salary in Malaysia withheld.  Women who find employment through illegal agents have to pay a large sum, usually 1.5-2 million rupiah (U.S.$183-244).  They typically raise these funds by borrowing money from the agent, village moneylenders, family, or friends at usurious interest rates.  Most of the women interviewed for this report who had borrowed money had to repay their lenders double the original amount of the loan. 

A migrant domestic worker may pass through two or three different agents or companies before she travels to Malaysia.  The local labor recruiter or “sponsor” will send her to a branch office of an agency or directly to the main office.  These offices either have their own training facilities or contract out to another agency to hold and train prospective migrant workers.  At this point, the agency may arrange for another health exam, will help her apply for a passport if she does not have one, request a temporary employment visa for the worker, pay for hospitalization insurance, and obtain approval from the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration.  The process is lengthy and contingent upon approvals from several government agencies.  Indonesia also requires that women domestic workers undergo training in housekeeping, childcare, and Bahasa Melayu, the language of Malaysia, before they go to Malaysia.  They must pass an exam before they are granted a visa.63  While they are waiting for their paperwork to be completed and for a Malaysian agent to select them for employment, women migrant workers stay in holding or training centers for several months.

Malaysian labor agents and employers may contract domestic workers through licensed Indonesian labor suppliers, or they may illegally recruit directly through unlicensed agents or prospective workers themselves.  Those who work with licensed Indonesian labor suppliers can choose domestic workers from written “biodata” forms containing photographs and biographical information about prospective workers (see appendix A for an example), or they may visit the holding and training centers in Indonesia to select women workers themselves.64  The contempt with which Malaysian and Indonesian labor agents treated women workers is apparent in one Malaysian labor supplier’s explanation of why he personally screens the prospective domestic workers in Indonesia’s training centers.  He told Human Rights Watch, “Malaysia is in the lowest category compared with Hong Kong, Taiwan…the good maids, the highly educated maids won’t come to Malaysia.  That’s why I go to Indonesia, so they won’t give me rubbish….  But there is still some rubbish, I don’t know why….  Even in training centers, because of big numbers, the quality is totally zero.”65

Once a woman has been selected for employment, she travels to Malaysia accompanied by either Indonesian or Malaysian labor agents, often with a small group of other workers.  Human Rights Watch interviewed several women who experienced long journeys with unexpected stops in transit points.  Some women who were promised plane tickets to Malaysia actually traveled by boat.  Kusmirah Parinem told Human Rights Watch about her experience:

The agent had promised we would travel to Malaysia by plane, but instead we went on a thirteen-person boat.  From Jakarta to Batam, I went by plane, and we stayed there for three days without food.  From Batam to Malaysia we traveled by boat.  I can’t remember how many hours but I was very frightened.66

Corruption, Extortion, and Other Illegal Practices

The long duration, high cost, and complex requirements of recruitment through legal procedures have led to both corruption and increased illegal activity.  Competition and unethical practices among profit-seeking labor suppliers and recruiters create an environment that undermines the effectiveness of the few existing regulations, compromising migrant workers’ rights.  In the past two years, dozens of labor recruitment agencies were found to be falsifying competency test certificates for migrant workers.67

A labor supplier in Jakarta told Human Rights Watch about the regular bribes and unofficial fees he pays to avoid delays in processing workers’ documents and other interference with his business.  He said that without such payments, the obstacles he would then encounter would place him at a disadvantage relative to other recruitment agencies in a highly competitive environment.  He told Human Rights Watch:

There is competition between the PJTKI [recruitment agencies]—employers run to the labor supplier who is the cheapest and fastest.  I give money to the media, social workers…police.  I give “entertainment money” to about ten people per month.  We give to key people ….  We give, they don’t ask.  It adds up to about three or four million [U.S.$365-488] a month. 68

The structure of labor recruitment in Indonesia increases the freedom and incentive local agents have to extort high fees from prospective migrant workers:  in many cases, they work on commission for several different agencies and do not receive a regular salary.  An Indonesian labor supplier based in Jakarta said, “We do not give [the branch office agents] a salary from Jakarta.  They get money from the migrant workers and brokers.  I don’t know how much they get….  I ask them not to take too much [from the workers].”69  Local labor agents are often the first to provide information about the long and bureaucratic migration process to workers, making it easy for them to deceive workers about the amount of money they have to pay up front.  Women migrating for domestic work through legal channels pay their fees through initial salary deductions in Malaysia and should have few, if any, financial obligations to their agents in Indonesia.  Human Rights Watch interviewed women migrant domestic workers who paid large sums to their local labor recruiter, often resorting to borrowing money at high interest rates.70 

The Indonesian government, through the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, requires each Indonesian migrant worker to pay U.S. $15 in insurance fees.  Indonesian NGOs have criticized the insurance scheme for being vague.  For example, the insurance covers hospitalization, but the maximum amount is not specified, and it remains unclear whether the insurance covers acts of abuse by employers.  Workers only have one month after their return to Indonesia to make a claim.71  Most migrant workers do not receive the coverage they are entitled to under this insurance scheme.  The World Bank has commissioned a study in cooperation with the Indonesian government to discover how these funds are being used.  As of early 2004, the whereabouts of these funds and their disbursement remained unclear.  NGOs blame lack of transparency and accountability in the state treasury, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration for the “disappearance” of these funds.72

The numerous and complicated procedures to send workers abroad, corruption among labor agents, and the absence of reliable information mean that many prospective migrant workers may think they are migrating legally, but actually, often unbeknownst to them, obtain fraudulent or incorrect documents at some point in the process.  A labor recruiter in a village may be working for both licensed agencies and illegal agents simultaneously.   In order to speed up the pre-departure process, a labor agent may promise to obtain a two-year temporary employment visa for a worker, but instead secure her a short-term visitor visa, making her vulnerable to falling out of status and encountering problems with the Malaysian immigration authorities. 

In other cases, migrant workers may opt to seek employment through an illegal agent who can promise to send them abroad in a matter of days rather than months, and who can help them bypass the training and health requirements.  Migrating through illegal agents typically places migrant workers at higher risk for abuse at all stages of the migration process and severely limits their access to redress.  The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia do not handle complaints of unpaid wages and other labor rights violations from workers who migrated illegally.  In Malaysia, such workers are also at risk of being arrested, detained, and deported under the immigration laws.

Lack of Information, Deception

The agent told me I would have to wait in Tanjung Pinang for one week, but in reality I was in Jakarta for three-and-a-half months.
—Interview with Hartini Sukarman, age twenty-four, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004

During the recruitment, training, and placement process, many women did not receive information about their employers’ duties as required under the work contracts or immigration and labor laws in Malaysia.  They also rarely learned where they could turn in case of problems.  Only a few women that Human Rights Watch interviewed were even aware there is an Indonesian embassy in Malaysia and that they could turn there for help.  Instead of providing information on options should the workers face abuse or other problems, labor agents barraged them with threats and lectures about their “obligations” not to run away, to obey their employer, and to work hard. 

Human Rights Watch documented some cases of labor agents misleading workers about the amount of time they would spend at a training center, the rate of their monthly salary, and their workload.   One woman told Human Rights Watch, “I was at the training center for five months and twenty days.  I didn’t know I’d be there for so long.  The agreement was that I would wait for one or two months….  The agreement was that if I passed the medical check-up they would return my money—I had paid 500,000 rupiah.  But the sponsor didn’t return my money.”73 

Human Rights Watch interviewed women workers who reported that their labor agent confiscated any contact information they had, like phone numbers of relatives and friends.  The only person workers could contact was their agent, and if they came through illegal channels, their agent often disappeared or changed phone numbers.74  Several women domestic workers reported that even if they were able to contact their agent, they did not receive the needed assistance.   For example, Nur Hasana Firmansyah told us, “My [male] employer always tried to hug me.  I decided to call my agent in Batam, but he didn’t want to pick me up.”75  Women who found themselves in abusive workplaces felt they had no options and were left powerless and trapped. 

Most of the women that Human Rights Watch interviewed knew little about the labor agencies they used to migrate to Malaysia.  Many said they could not recall the name of their labor agency.  The only information they had was the first name of the labor agent.  Often they had few or no details about where they were staying aside from the name of the city.  Some were unsure whether the labor agency they used was licensed or not, though educated guesses could be made from other information they provided, as in the case of Latifah Dewi.  She described an experience she had while at a training center:  “The police often came and all the women had to get in the house.  They would let just one girl meet the police.  If the police did an operation and asked the girl, ‘are there many people in the house?’, she had to tell them, ‘I am alone.’  I don’t know if the agency was licensed or not.”76

Most women reported signing a work contract, but never received their own copy.  Many labor agencies only showed contracts to women migrant domestic workers briefly so they could sign them before they left the training or holding centers.  Most women workers reported to Human Rights Watch and other Indonesian NGOs that they did not receive a full explanation of the content of the work contract, were not given an opportunity to raise questions, or to show the contract to legal counsel, family, or friends for discussion.77

Based on copies of contracts Human Rights Watch obtained from labor agents and immigration officials, and on the memories of women migrant workers, these contracts usually outlined a two-year work contract.  They did not contain a job description detailing the workload or types of work for which the domestic worker would be responsible (see appendix B for a sample contract).  It was understood that the worker would bear the cost of travel back to Indonesia if she left before the two-year contract was completed.  Many contracts did specify that workers should be able to observe religious practices such as praying five times a day and fasting if that was their wish.  Work contracts did not regulate number of hours of work or provide for overtime pay.  Although contracts commonly stipulated that a worker could take one day off per week, many also provided that, if the employer paid the worker, she could be made to work all seven days.

Alteration of Travel Documents

There were a lot of young girls, the youngest was fifteen.  They changed my age to twenty-six, I was sixteen at the time.
—Interview with Suwari Syaripah, age eighteen, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 17, 2004

A significant number of the women whom Human Rights Watch interviewed stated that their passport and other travel documents had been altered to change their age, name, or address.  The women and girls who told Human Rights Watch of this practice said they had their passport altered so they would appear to be at least twenty-five.  Human Rights Watch interviews included girls and some women who were under eighteen at the time of their recruitment.  According to a Malaysian immigration official, Malaysia requires that domestic workers be aged twenty-five to forty-five (see appendix C for a list of requirements to hire a domestic worker).78  Partly as a result of the widespread practice of altering passports and other travel documents, government authorities and NGOs find it difficult to estimate the number of Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia that are still children.

In most cases, women and girls did not pay an extra fee for passport alterations, but in a few cases they did pay up to one million rupiah (U.S.$125).  Older women also had their passports altered to lower their age.  One woman remembered her peers at a labor agency, “There were many, many girls below the age of eighteen, but the company changed their age on their documents.  They would have to pay five hundred thousand rupiah.”79 

Discrimination in Hiring Practices

Labor agencies marketed women workers based not only on their skills, but on characteristics unrelated to their job responsibilities in Malaysia.  These include their age, weight, height, complexion, marital status, and number of children.  Based on these characteristics, Malaysian labor suppliers selected the domestic workers they wanted from the Indonesian labor recruiters.  Labor agents often view women domestic workers as tradable goods rather than human beings.  One Malaysian labor supplier told Human Rights Watch:

I go to Indonesia every one or two months.  I conduct interviews and handpick maids.  I have the right to pick whatever product I want.  [Some maids end up having to stay in the holding and training centers longer.  The reason why is]…marketing, some are ugly, fat, short.  The final decision belongs to the employer.  Maybe they can’t sell.  Some stay even up to eight months [in the holding and training centers.]80

Most of the licensed labor agents in Indonesia prepare “biodata” forms for the women workers they have recruited, and both Indonesian and Malaysian labor suppliers noted that agents often select attractive women first, with “less desirable” women more likely to wait in holding and training centers for longer periods of time.  Preferences about marital status varied, with some labor agents and employers stating that unmarried workers are better because they have “never been with a man” and are less likely to run away with a boyfriend.  Others felt that men would prey upon young, attractive workers and preferred older, married women workers.

Abuses in Training Centers

There were 350 women waiting to work in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan.  Lots of them were young, mostly Javanese….  We received no information about our rights, only about our obligations.  They told us we were not allowed outside, we were not allowed to talk to anyone.  We were not allowed to go outside, like putting out trash, and we had to clean, iron, and do all the domestic work.  We were not allowed to speak to anyone.  There was one big room [in the training center] and we all slept there….  We would wait for hours and hours in a long line to take a bath, sometimes we had our turns at night.  We were not allowed out of the center, there was a big gate with a lock, and two security guards.

I wanted to go home but didn’t know how to run away or go home.  Many people ran away.  Some people paid the company so they could leave.  They had to pay five million rupiah (U.S.$610).  When [I finally got to go] I felt tired and I didn’t want to go to Malaysia anymore.
—Interview with Hartini Sukarman, age twenty-four, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004

As noted above, domestic workers, unlike individuals migrating for other types of work,  must complete a training course before the Indonesian government will grant them permission to work overseas.  The duration of these “training programs” typically range from one to six months.  Labor suppliers, domestic workers, and NGOs told Human Rights Watch that some women and girls may wait in training centers for as long as nine months until the paperwork is completed and agents have selected them for employment.  According to the women migrant workers and NGO workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the training centers are often overcrowded and the quality of the training is low.81  The staff and security running the training centers generally restrict the women’s freedom of movement and bar them from leaving the facilities.  Some interviewees also reported inadequate food and water, verbal and physical abuse, or “training” apprenticeships where they were forced to perform domestic work locally without pay.

Forced Confinement

There were almost seven hundred people [in the training center].  Some of them became crazy.  They were all women….  Some people were waiting there for six months.  Most of them wanted to leave the company, but would have to pay one million rupiah [U.S.$122] to do so.  A lot of people ran away by climbing the walls.  We were not allowed outside.  There were many security [guards]—strict—and locked gates.  There were two women security and two men.  It was very hard to leave the center without a reason.  My friend wanted to visit me but wasn’t allowed.  I felt sorry when I first reached the center, but I pushed through because of my desire to earn money….  The security would always check when we were going to sleep to make sure we didn’t run away.  The security would get punished when people ran away, they would call agents in Lombok to see if the runaways returned home.
—Interview with Jumilah Ratnasari, age thirty-two, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004

Labor agents restricted the movement of prospective women migrant workers while they completed their training in Indonesia or waited for an employment assignment.  Only three of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they were able to move freely; the rest reported locked gates and constant monitoring by security guards.  In a few cases, women were allowed visits by their family, occasional phone calls, or brief, supervised trips to markets, but in many cases, they remained confined to the training facilities for the entire duration of their stay.  Most women endured these conditions because of the pressure they felt to migrate to Malaysia and earn money for their families or to repay loans.  One woman told Human Rights Watch, “We were not allowed to go outside even if we wanted to buy food.  The gate was locked.  I wanted to return to Lombok, but I remembered I had borrowed so much money that I had to pay back.”82 

Human Rights Watch interviewed labor agents who cited fears about women getting pregnant, raped, or lost if they were allowed to leave the training center freely.  One woman said that the agents warned them they could not go out because, “we could be cheated by others who would then sell us.”83  Another reason is profit.  Supplying domestic workers is a competitive industry, with different companies vying to have a ready supply of fresh recruits available to meet labor demand in Malaysia.  Because domestic workers typically do not pay any money up front but rather have the first four or five months of their salary withheld, Indonesian labor agencies do not get paid for recruiting a worker until she is selected for employment by a Malaysian labor agency.  Because the Indonesian agency has paid for the woman’s transportation to the center, her board and lodging, the processing of her documents, and her medical exam, they fear the loss of their investment should she try to run away before she is transferred to a Malaysian labor supplier. This gives them a powerful financial incentive to strictly regulate her movements.

Some domestic workers and NGO activists reported to Human Rights Watch that labor agents kept girls in training or holding centers until they turned eighteen.  The staff of KOPBUMI, a network of migrant rights’ NGOs said, “The labor agents should [instead] ask migrant workers to wait at home….  If they want to leave, they have to pay.  They may escape but the shelter people try to catch them.”84

Inadequate Living Conditions, Food, and Water

I slept on the floor without a mat and used my bag as a pillow.  There were 300 people there, all women….  We were staying in a big room with no windows….  There were three toilets but two were out of order.  The water was not enough and the toilets were dirty.  I took a bath twice a week, there were so many people that there were long lines.  We were not allowed to go outside, there was a gate with a lock.  Many people wanted to run away but didn’t know how….  Some of the women had anxiety and were crazy, because it was very scary.
—Interview with Nur Hasana Firmansyah, age twenty-one, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004

Human Rights Watch found that training centers were typically overcrowded.85  Women generally slept on the floor and some complained of having no sheets or mattresses.  In some cases they had adequate food and water; in other situations, they remained hungry.  Sanitation conditions were often poor, with insufficient toilets and showers for the numbers of women.  Kusmirah Parinem, a twenty-one-year-old domestic worker in Malaysia, recalled:

I was in the training center for four months.  There were 600 people, sleeping in lines on sheets in a big hall.  Sometimes you got sheets and sometimes you didn’t.  We got small amounts of food three times a day.  I was hungry.  There was one place to bathe and eight or ten women had to go at once.  You have to queue up, if you are late, there is not enough water.  Drinking water was not enough….  If we made some small mistake, the agents punished us and they didn’t give us food the whole day, or we had to stay in front of the class all day.  The food was not enough and it was not good.86

Although the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration has developed minimum standards for space, food, and sanitation, the monitoring of conditions by the ministry is infrequent, and according to NGOs, lax.  An official from the Ministry who occasionally checks these conditions, said, “When I go to monitor training centers, I look at the accommodations and the management, for example, do they keep data and records about the workers?”87  This official was unwilling to divulge the number of training centers that she had visited.

Psychological, Physical, and Sexual Abuse

If we made a mistake, they would get angry with us….  Once I had to take [a heavy load of] water on my head and stand on my knees in the sun for two hours because I didn’t want to exercise in the morning.  I didn’t have any other problems, but others did.  The staff would beat them with sticks and books.
—Interview with Ira Novianti, age twenty, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 25, 2004

Human Rights Watch interviewed twelve current and former domestic workers who had experienced psychological and physical abuse at the hands of labor agents and security personnel at training centers in Indonesia.  In these cases, labor agents and trainers verbally abused or insulted women if they made mistakes during the training.  Physical violence, typically involving beatings with sticks, was used as a tool for discipline and punishment.  One domestic worker remembered, “The agency would use angry words, bad words, they beat me.  They beat me with a tree branch.”88 

A few women Human Rights Watch interviewed were sexually harassed by the staff at the training centers, and others reported that women at times exchanged sexual favors for expedited processing and placement in Malaysia.  Nur Hasana Firmansyah, a returned domestic worker in Indonesia, told Human Rights Watch:

The guards would always pull us and touch us.  If they saw a beautiful girl, they took her upstairs and slept with her.  I know of two girls, Ratna and Ani, also Jianjur, she was about seventeen or eighteen.  The security would tease me, “would you become my girlfriend?” I always fought back.  They never touched me because I always screamed for the leader of the girls.  I would wake up at night and yell….  They would tease us when we went to the washroom.89 

Exploitative Labor Practices

They tutored us how to work for a week [in the training center].  Then I worked in a house for a month.  There were about one hundred women at the training center…but many working outside the agent’s house.  They would sleep at their employers’ house and get paid 150,000 rupiah [U.S.$18.29] per month.  I was working 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. when in Medan.
─Interview with Ani Rukmonto, age twenty-two, Indonesian domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004

Some Indonesian labor agencies send women to work as maids in local households, either as “training” or as a way for them to earn money while they were waiting for their placement in Malaysia.  Some migrant domestic workers told Human Rights Watch they were able to keep their earnings from this work, while others reported that their entire salaries were retained by their labor agent. 

Women employed as domestic workers in Indonesia confront many of the same spectrum of abuses as domestic workers in Malaysia:  long hours, no rest days, low or unpaid wages, restrictions of movement, and mistreatment by the employer.  For example, thirty-year-old Amsia Widodo told Human Rights Watch that, while at the training center, “People would borrow us to work in their home.  I earned 125,000 rupiah [U.S.$15.24] a month.  I lived in the [employer’s] house and worked from 8:00 a.m. to midnight ironing and washing clothes.”90

[56] “Indonesia, Philippines,” Migration News, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2004) [online], (retrieved April 6, 2004).

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Fifi Arianti Pancawedha, director for Socialization and Guidance for Indonesian Overseas Placement, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, February 5, 2004, and Human Rights Watch interview with Mathew Barin, assistant director, Housemaid Unit, Foreign Workers Department, Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs, February 24, 2004.  Fifi Arianti Pancawedha said Indonesian companies must be legally incorporated, have their own office space, and a deposit guarantee.  They should have at least 250 million rupiah (U.S.$30,488) and basic capital worth 750 million (U.S.$91,463).

[58] E-mail message from Geni Achnas, member, Women’s Movement for the Protection of Migrants’ Rights (GPPBM), Jakarta, Indonesia, to Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2004.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Fifi Arianti Pancawedha, director for Socialization and Guidance for Indonesian Overseas Placement, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, February 5, 2004.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Nur Hasana Firmansyah, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[61] Human Rights Watch interviews in Indonesia and Malaysia, January and February 2004.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Tika Surya Atmoja, NGO worker, Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, February 3, 2004.  YPI is an NGO that works to provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS.  Between 2001-2003 they had thirty cases of migrant workers who were HIV-positive referred to them.  They are trying to develop working relationships with labor agencies, but of the two hundred agencies they have contacted, only thirty-three have responded and may cooperate with YPI by allowing them to conduct information sessions about HIV/AIDS and by referring migrant workers who test positive to them.

[63] The training programs are of different lengths depending on the country of destination.  The training for Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong are six months because the language training is more intensive.  The training for Malaysia should take one to two months as Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu, the language spoken in Malaysia, are similar.

[64] “Biodatas” are information forms that Malaysian agents and employers to select workers for employment.  A typical biodata includes a photograph of the candidate, information about the worker’s skills, and biographical information.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004. 

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Kusmirah Parinem, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 14, 2004.

[67] Komnas Perempuan and Solidaritas Perempuan/CARAM Indonesia, Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers, p. 16.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 7, 2004.  Bribes to the media and social workers compromise their independence to report problems they discover at labor agencies or training centers.

[69] Ibid.

[70] See also, Sidney Jones, Making Money Off Migrants, 2000, pp.44-51.

[71] Komnas Perempuan and Solidaritas Perempuan/CARAM Indonesia, Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers, pp. 34-35. 

[72] Ibid, p. 33.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Tita Sari, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[74] Indonesian embassy officials and representatives from NGOs in Malaysia and Indonesia all commented that they encountered the same problem when trying to investigate complaints by migrant workers.  When they tried to contact the concerned labor agent, they discovered that the provided phone number had changed or was disconnected.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Nur Hasana Firmansyah, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Latifah Dewi, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[77] E-mail message from Geni Achnas, member, Women’s Movement for the Protection of Migrants’ Rights (GPPBM), Jakarta, Indonesia, to Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2004.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Matthew Barin, Department of Immigration, Ministry of Home Affairs, Putrajaya, Malaysia, February 24, 2004.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Jumilah Ratnasari, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Solidaritas Perempuan, Jakarta, Indonesia, January 20, 2004; Human Rights Watch interview with KOPBUMI, Jakarta, Indonesia, January 21, 2004.

[82] Human Rights Watch with Nur Aini Fitri, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 25, 2004.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Harmini Ayu Putri, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, February 26, 2004.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with KOPBUMI, Jakarta, Indonesia, January 21, 2004.

[85] Human Rights Watch visited one training center in Jakarta, Indonesia.  The findings about the conditions of training centers come primarily from the testimonies of women migrant workers, labor suppliers, and NGO workers.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with Kusmirah Parinem, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 14, 2004.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Fifi Arianti Pancawedha, director for Socialization and Guidance for Indonesian Overseas Placement, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, February 5, 2004.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Novena Susilo, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with Nur Hasana Firmansyah, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview with Amsia Widodo, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

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