The Story of a Domestic Worker in 7 Cities: Sleeping with a Dog, Can’t Use Employer’s Elevator, Wearing Glasses Is Considered Stylish

Sunarti is starving, her food is limited and she is tortured by an employer who feels more powerful. Suningsih, a domestic worker (PRT) in Bumiayu, was abused, shot by her employer until she was paralyzed, and crippled for life. Some domestic workers sleep with dogs and are only allowed to enter the freight elevator. Konde summarizes the stories of domestic workers in 7 cities in Indonesia in special coverage to commemorate the 2022 national domestic workers day.

Sutini sleeps at the employer’s house. She sleeps with the dog. Even though she works at an employer’s house who owns a chicken noodle restaurant, Sutini is only rationed to eat once a day.

Working as a domestic worker in Yogyakarta starting in 1997, Sutini had to work from dawn to midnight, from preparation to closing the restaurant, after which she had to clean up the restaurant and employer’s house.

After 2 years of working, Sutini felt more and more violence after violence. She was often beaten, verbally abused, and deprived of food. Then, the employer’s treatment became crueler, Sutini was doused with hot water, beaten her fingers and nails until they peeled off. Sutini’s head was also hit and injured.

Sutini finally tried to save herself by climbing the roof. Later, she was rescued by local residents and taken to the police. However, the legal process is not fair.

“The employer was not arrested, we took action many times to urge the police, finally the employer was arrested and then put on trial, but was only detained for 2 months probation. The case reaches the Supreme Court. While the wages for 6 years of work are also not paid.”

Sutini told her story in the virtual action of Domestic Workers (PRT) in 7 cities in Indonesia which was held by the Alliance to Stop Violence and Harassment in the World of Work on February, 8–15 2022 in commemoration of National Domestic Workers Day. The seven cities are Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Tangerang, South Tangerang, Makassar, Medan and Semarang.

Damairia Pakpahan, a domestic worker activist in Yogyakarta, noted that this condition shows that even though she sleeps at the home of her employer or employer who is quite well off, Sutini sleeps with a dog. A rich employer, a big house, does not guarantee that a domestic worker is treated well.

Sutini’s experience is different than Sargini. Sargini was born in an arid village in Yogyakarta, namely Gunungkidul. Drought, poor parents, father remarried and left home, then made Sargini’s parents decide to become domestic workers in the city of Yogya.

“Even though my mother works in the city of Yogya, she rarely visits us because it is difficult to get permission to go home. My mother worked as a domestic worker in the city and entrusted her daughter, namely me, who was 2 years old at that time, to her grandmother so that our lives could be fulfilled. Once a week, my mother sends money to a neighbor who comes to our house, she can only come home once a year for 3-4 days, after that she goes to work again. She often feels homesick because she has been working for so long and hardly sees her child,” said Sargini.

Even though the cities of Yogya and Gunungkidul are not far away, because there is no holiday, Sargini and her mother rarely see each other.

Apart from choosing to work in a city not far from where they live, many domestic workers then chose to work outside the city. Jakarta and its surroundings become the destination city. Sumarni is one of them.

Sumarni is a domestic worker who works in South Tangerang and has been working since 2006. Meals are rationed, plates and glasses are distinguished from her employer. She also had the door locked. When the employer went to attend an invitation, she was left and the door’s locked.

“I have never been given the freedom to go out. I can’t go to the vegetable seller. I can’t socialize with fellow domestic workers. The days off are only once a month. For sleeping, there is a room above but I have to sleep with a female employer who is an old lady. I ended up sleeping under the bed because I was bashful. I only lasted up to 3 months.”

In the end, Sumarni chose to work as a domestic worker back and forth, not sleeping in her employer’s house. But as a consequence, she was able to go home at 10 pm and was not given a fare.

“I used to come home at 10 pm and I was not given a fee. I wanted to sleep inside, but there was no room. Because my house is far and it’s night, then I sleep at a friend’s house.”

Another domestic worker in Tangerang, Diyanawati, besides working to clean all the houses and look after the children, also accompanied the employer’s children to study.

“What makes me sad is that when the test scores are bad, the child will be furious. I will be asked how they studied, why did the child get bad grades. But if the score is good, the child will be praised. In addition to school, children also take lessons. So, apart from taking care of them at home and at the tutoring center, I also have to take care of homework and assignments from school or from the tutoring center.

“Because if there is something that has not been done, I will get angry too. The point is that I, as a domestic worker, are required to do all kinds of work, including those that are not my duties and responsibilities for children’s school education.”

Ngapini, works as a domestic worker in Semarang. Before the pandemic, she worked in one of the employer’s houses for 2 years. After the pandemic and being sick for 20 days I was allowed to return to work. However, after recovering I was not allowed to enter and was asked to wait to be called again by the employer.

This was also experienced by Kartini, a domestic worker in Makassar who was laid off after the pandemic came.

Violence Against Domestic Worker

Sunarti is starving, her food is limited and she is tortured by her employer who thinks that she is more powerful than Sunarti.

Suningsih, a domestic worker in Bumiayu, Brebes, Central Java in 1999 was subjected to violence at work, she was shot and paralyzed, and was disabled for life. Ningsih is paralyzed in her leg due to a gunshot wound to her kneecap. Free employers are not penalized.

At that time, Suningsih was 19 years old, she asked permission to go out of the house for a while. The employer has allowed it but feels like she does not allow it. Suningsih was then shot just like that. This case was handled by the police, and in the end, the employer was not legally processed, even though Suningsih is still being treated at a rehabilitation center.

One of the severe cases of violence was experienced by Sri Siti Marni (Ani) and Erni, domestic workers who have worked for almost 9 years since the age of 12, experiencing continuous torture and violence by their employers. Victims are often beaten with hands or hard objects, doused with hot water, ironed, forced to eat cat feces. This violence resulted in Ani and Erni being seriously injured and their sense of sight was not functioning as well as psychological trauma.

Data compiled by the National Network for Domestic Workers (JALA PRT) in 2012-2015 contained 1,474 cases of violence experienced by domestic workers. In early 2016 there were 121 cases of domestic workers, generally multi-violent, including unpaid wages, confinement, abuse. 35% of them are human trafficking cases. 80% of the cases were stopped by the police.

Several abuse cases happened to domestic workers in the following years, including the incident of violence against Mah, a domestic worker from Indramayu who was abused by her employer for buying the wrong vegetables. A domestic worker, TO, who became a victim of persecution by a former member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, Ivan Haz. Whereas a member of parliament is prohibited from committing violence, discriminating against the community.

Discrimination Experienced by Domestic Workers

Many domestic workers are treated differently, such as different glasses and plates, or entering the elevator must go through the freight elevator, not allowed to enter the human elevator.

A domestic worker in Jakarta, with the initial Y, once wrote on Konde about the discrimination she experienced.

“As a domestic worker, I experience a lot of discrimination where I work, such as when I worked in an apartment in Jakarta, I was not allowed to use the same elevator used by my employer. I don’t know where this rule came from, but suddenly I was stopped by a security guard who didn’t let me enter the elevator. It turned out that the elevator was a special elevator for employers, whereas I was only allowed to go up via the freight elevator. He said this was a regulation issued by the apartment management.”

Y is also not allowed to sit while waiting for the employer’s child at school, because the waiting seat is only reserved for the employer.

“Another discrimination I received was that I was not allowed to sit in the waiting area at the employer’s children’s school. This happened when I picked up the employer’s child near the apartment because there was an empty seat in front and the boss’s child was still a few minutes away from class, so I sat on that bench, coincidentally the bench was empty. But suddenly security came and approached me not to sit on the bench, I spontaneously replied, “Why, sir, the seat is empty, after all, I’m picking up the employer’s child,” I asked at that time. The security guard replied that only the employer may sit on the bench, this is a school rule, security only enforces the rules.”

Ririn can only wear a negligee, and can’t put on make up. She must enter the house through the back door, not through the front door.

“Even if the domestic worker is clean, doesn’t it bring the employer’s good name? Bring the key through the back, you can’t go through the front because your job is in the kitchen,” said Ririn.

Some domestic workers work with minus glasses, so many statements are made to mock the domestic workers.

“Why be so stylish, wearing glasses all the time, you’re just a domestic worker.”

Domestic worker activist, Damairia Pakpahan sees this bad treatment of domestic workers as a result of the larger class difference between employers or employers and domestic workers.

“Why is wearing glasses considered stylish? This shows there is the class problem, domestic workers are seen as lower than other people, this shows unequal things.”

Domestic worker activist, Aida Milasari stated that this discrimination now makes domestic workers do not like to sleep at home because there are differences, different plates, get or doesn’t get the rooms, but there are no keys, and also domestic workers often sleep on a mat which makes them sick often. So domestic workers then prefer to work in several houses so that they can go home every day.

Makassar female activist, Lusia Palulungan also sees this all happening because of class differences that lead to bad treatment.

“In addition, working in the household is a domestic job that cannot be seen by other people or outsiders, so this arbitrariness is a hidden treatment and is difficult to prove.”

Vivi Widyawati, Mahardhika Women’s activist stated that working with domestic workers should be able to bring the public to change their way of thinking, that there are serious humanitarian problems experienced by domestic workers in Indonesia. This is a wrong perspective that considers domestic workers, not as human beings who must be respected and protected.

Why do domestic workers work? Poverty.

Fadhilah and Robyani are domestic workers in South Tangerang who are fighting for their domestic life. Even though Fadhilah is sick, she still has to work because her husband is no longer working because he was laid off, and his son is also not working.

So does Robyani. Her husband had a heart attack, after being sick, the company he worked for suddenly laid him off.

“My husband has heart disease, he was asked to rest with his boss.  And when he is healthy, he was even laid off when he came to work. Currently, being an online motorcycle-taxi drivers, known as ojol drivers, due to uncertain economic conditions. The children work in the parking lot, sometimes the staple food is not at home, but we keep trying.”

Poverty is indeed the main reason why domestic workers work. The data compiled by Marina Nasution and Abdus Somad and the Konde’s team from the writings of domestic workers who have been writing on Konde during 2021 conclude that it turns out that the maintenance work carried out by domestic workers so far has not received the recognition and appreciation as it should be.

Their job is not considered not an essential work. The term is misguided, it is considered unskilled labor, workers who do not have skills so it is considered natural to be paid cheap wages and without guaranteed protection. Their existence is ignored. Their faces are often invisible. Their voices are often not heard.

Not a few of the Domestic Workers (PRT) and Child Domestic Workers (PRTA) experience violence and torture. In the 2020, Komnas Perempuan Annual Records, 17 cases of domestic workers were reported to Komnas Perempuan. Meanwhile, the National Domestic Worker Advocacy Network (JALA PRT) recorded that from 2015 to 2019, there were 2,148 cases experienced by domestic workers. The forms are economic, physical, and psychological violence.

Marina Nasution and Abdus Somad also received data, many domestic workers were also not allowed to celebrate religious holidays and were sexually harassed by their employers.

There was a child domestic worker who said that she was forced to work as a domestic worker because the employer promised to pay for their schooling until they graduated, but when they lived at the employer’s house, they were not sent to school, but instead were employed as domestic workers.

There is a happy story, but they have to fight hard for it.

Although 80% of the stories of domestic workers are sad stories, there are also stories of joy experienced by domestic workers. Even though the story of joy doesn’t just come, it must be fought hard.

Data compiled by Konde through the writings of domestic workers concludes, some domestic workers work abroad as Indonesian workers, then they can save and succeed in buying a house.

Some can open a business, complete college, and send their children to higher education. There is also a story about the experience of working abroad, fluent in foreign languages.

Many domestic workers who came from this bad condition then organized in JALA PRT. They then together founded the Domestic Workers Union.

With this organization, they have many activities, such as being able to add insight, skills, and strengthen their bargaining position in front of employers. Through this capacity strengthening, domestic workers can negotiate contracts and better salaries with employers.

Dewi Korawati, a domestic worker in South Tangerang stated that she initiated the PRT organization in South Tangerang with JALA PRT. The organization’s goal is to fight for the rights of domestic workers so they are not humiliated.

“At the gathering, one domestic worker brought another domestic worker, and finally there were many. Now in South Tangerang, there are 100 domestic workers,” said Dewi Korawati.

Jusmiati Lestari, an activist for the Makassar Goddess of Justice, stated that in Makassar there are already employers’ organizations formed to support the work of domestic workers. Things like this are encouraging even though domestic workers have to keep fighting for it.

To commemorate National Domestic Workers (PRT) Day, Konde wrote a special article on “Not Recognized as Workers: Special Coverage of Domestic Workers Conditions” which will be broadcast on 14-15 February 2022. This effort is to provide space for domestic workers to speak up and fight for their better lives.

Luviana dan Marina Nasution


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