Work From Home’ Doesn’t Apply to Domestic Workers
By Aurizza Amanda (Write to Donate’s Winner)
The COVID-19 pandemic surely has come with a myriad of unprecedented consequences towards various socioeconomic groups. One solution that has arisen for the upper middle class who worked in offices is working in the home by online devices, thus the catchphrase ‘Work From Home’ has been popularized since the pandemic began. Ironically, the people who are actually working in homes are in danger of having their wages cut, or even losing their job altogether. Domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable marginalized communities during the pandemic, since they often do not have secure working contracts to protect their jobs and most of them are migrants who are surviving day by day with limited wages. The majority of domestic workers are also women, which makes them even more vulnerable by the rise of domestic violence towards women during the pandemic.
The ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates that in the early stages of the pandemic, on 15 March, 49.3 percent of domestic workers were significantly impacted . This figure peaked at 73.7 percent on 15 May, before reducing to 72.3 percent on 4 June. The pandemic has had particularly dire impact on domestic workers around the world, which manifested by multitudes of problem.
First of all, most of domestic workers unfortunately still face the hardships of being underpaid and discriminated. Therefore, the pandemic have worsened the situation by putting them in the frontline without any protection. Those who are able to keep their jobs are often overlooked by their employer regarding their hygiene and physical protection to prevent being infected. Providing face masks and hand sanitizers might sound simple, but such measures are needed to ensure their safety in the midst of a pandemic. When going out to buy groceries or do laundry are some of their essential works, domestic workers are the ones who are exposed to social contact, meaning higher risks of infection. Those who shares inadequate living quarters with other domestic workers obviously could not apply the concept of social distancing, given that droplet can stay on surfaces for hours.
Furthermore, the power imbalance has even created difficulty for them to ask their employer if they have the symptoms of the disease. Rather, the workers are often suspected carrying the virus with no reason. Work from home and physical distancing policy has made their employer and kids staying home all the time, making an increasing amount of workload, too.
The second problem that has arisen with pandemic related economy crisis is that domestic workers are facing the possibility of termination of employment or forced unpaid leave. Merry, who has worked for 6 years with her celebrity employer has to accept her employment termination via WhatsApp with only eight days worth of wage. She has been fighting for her rights by mediation, if not by law. Most of domestic workers are migrants, making them prone to homelessness with the inability to pay rent. Siti Hernia is in a dire situation, with her being evicted from her domestic work in a foreign country. Lacking preparation, she has been struggling to live by as a migrant with rising debts and zero income.
Lastly, the identity of the domestic workers themselves could be the source of discrimination and abuse. Women domestic workers are more prone to abusive behavior from their employer, therefore lockdowns might endanger their safety by trapping them inside with nowhere else to go. Those who work in foreign countries might face racism, especially if they came from Asian countries which are believed to be the source of the disease.
In Indonesia alone, at least 4.2 million domestic workers are working with weak bargaining positions and unclear work contracts which led to long working hours, low salaries, and few or no days off. Asri, who has been working as a domestic workers for 16 years in South Tangerang, is more fortunate due to her bravery to negotiate with her employer on her earnings and working conditions. As domestic workers are still discriminated by being labelled as second class citizens, not all domestic workers have the same courage to secure their rights. Government protection has been nonexistent for them, since the bill on domestic workers protection draft is stalled since 2004.
The lack of protection by law is said to be the root of the problem. Domestic workers are not seen as formal workers, putting them in the darkness of what the experts call modern slavery. Historically speaking, domestic work has been expected to be given for free by women in private households.The government by the Ministry of Labour confessed that there has been no reports made regarding this issue. However, the lack of attention directed on domestic workers are unsurprisingly low, making the ignorance of government being the real issue.
Advocacy group the National Network for Domestic Worker Advocacy (Jala PRT) polled 668 domestic workers in seven regions in 2019 and found that 98.2 percent of the respondents earned only between 20 and 30 percent of the respective regional minimum wage. Jala PRT has been working hard to prepare domestic workers with the ability to negotiate with their employers and providing them with legal assistance if necessary. Jala PRT also urged the government to not just care about domestic workers, but also middle and lower class society.
There is no denial that domestic workers have substantial contributions towards society and the economy. The amount of work on caring for the children, the elderly, and maintaining a household should not be overlooked. Even if mistreatment and unfairness are already deeply ingrained in this particular labor market, this should not diminish the importance of domestic work. Privileged socioeconomic class should be aware of the struggles of domestic workers and be supportive of their work. While employers are chasing their dreams by working and pursuing further education, domestic workers provide them a clean home, cared family, and warm dinners. Change is slow and difficult, but little steps are needed to bring a greater impact in the future.
Lumbanrau. Raja Eben. 29 Mei 2020. Tangis PRT di Tengah Pandemi Covid-1: Dipecat Lewat Whatsapp, tidak dapat pesangon dan bertahan dalam lilitan utang. https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/indonesia-52846765.
International Labour Organization. 15 June 2020. Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on loss of jobs and hours among domestic workers. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/publications/factsheets/WCMS_747961/lang–en/index.htm.
Syakriah. Ardila. 18 March 2020. ‘What about us?’: Domestic Workers feel neglected amid virus outbreak. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/18/what-about-us-domestic-workers-feel-neglected-amid-virus-outbreak.html.