Indonesian manpower officials will meet their counterparts in labour-receiving countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Singapore, from later this month as a first step to improve the protection of their workers abroad.
Domestic helpers' job scope, minimum wages, continuous rest hours and living arrangements, including the feasibility of "live-out" maids, will be among the topics discussed, Manpower and Transmigration Ministry officials told The Straits Times early this week.
Mr Soes Hindharno, the ministry's director for the protection and placement of Indonesian migrant workers abroad, said officials will "re-negotiate employment contracts to make them more humane".
"Our workers are not robots. We want to make sure they are adequately compensated, treated fairly and work in safe environments. In turn, we will upgrade their skills through training," he said.
The move is part of Indonesian President Joko Widodo's plan to professionalise informal employment. A road map to stop sending Indonesian maids abroad by next year was announced by the previous administration in 2012 amid worries about maids being abused.
Indonesia is the biggest source for maids in Singapore, with about 125,000 women working in the Republic. In May, Indonesian authorities announced plans to have new maids live separately from employers from as early as next year, sparking an outcry in Singapore.
Our workers are not robots. We want to make sure they are adequately compensated, treated fairly and work in safe environments. In turn, we will upgrade their skills through training.
MR SOES HINDHARNO, Indonesia's Transmigration and Manpower Ministry's director for the protection and placement of Indonesian migrant workers abroad.
Maid agents and employers are concerned that the live-out plan will drive up logistical costs like travel and housing, and lead to social problems such as maids falling into bad company or committing crimes.
But another Indonesian official, Ms Sri Setiawati, said the plan is an "ideal" way to track the women's welfare and the ministry is still studying its feasibility.
Officials are expected to visit Malaysia later this month, and travel to Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong and Taiwan next month. These initial meetings are expected to pave the way for more bilateral discussions and "ultimately help to raise workers' welfare and achieve fair treatment for them", Ms Sri said.
The ministry has written to the foreign embassies to facilitate the meetings, although dates have not been set, she added.
A Manpower Ministry spokesman in Singapore said the ministry is regularly in touch with foreign embassy officials, including Indonesia's, but is "not aware of the specific meeting".
Ms Sri said Indonesian domestic workers are generally treated well in Singapore, but they tend to handle too many different tasks and work long hours.
The aim is to ensure maids get eight-hour uninterrupted rest, and for them to be hired along the lines of five "professional" skills: elderly care, childcare, housekeeping, driving or gardening.
Ms Sri said: "Indonesian workers never say no. It's in our culture to make people happy. So they will multitask, look after the elderly and babies, cook, clean the house, wash the car. Then they fall sick.
"Even if the helpers agree to multitask for more pay, there's a limit to their time and energy, and these must not be exploited."
• Additional reporting by Joanna Seow