Translator, researcher and writer
Jaeni sits cross legged on the floor of her small, dimly lit living room. Her two daughters —aged 14 and 12 — sit across from her. Between the three is a steadily growing pile of shoe insoles.
The smell of glue is thick in the air. Only a small fan in the corner gives some respite from the fumes and the stifling heat of the North Jakarta afternoon.
The three work quickly, their hands a flurry of movement as they glue together insoles for two well-known footwear brands. The youngest is yet to change out of her primary school uniform.
Jaeni and her daughters are homeworkers – one of the most vulnerable and least acknowledged groups of workers in Indonesia and throughout the region.
Most homeworkers — the vast majority of whom are women — work without job security, far removed from occupational health and safety standards and for payment that is often well below a living wage. Currently there are no regulations in Indonesia that explicitly recognize or regulate homeworkers.
Irham Saifuddin, program officer at the Indonesia Office of the International Labor Organization (ILO), explained that in Indonesia, the phenomenon of home-based work is widespread and the number of homeworkers likely to rise.
“With labor market flexibility and the global supply chains, there will be more homeworkers in the future. Financially it’s more effective for companies as they have no direct responsibilities to the workers and the return from their investment is higher,” said Irham.
Gluing shoe insoles has been Jaeni’s primary source of income for three years. Her husband died almost a decade ago and since then she has had to work extra hard to support her five children.
Every day Jaeni leaves the house at 5:30am to start her other job as a domestic worker. She begins working on the insoles when she gets home at about 10 a.m. Her daughters start to help with the work after school, stopping only when the day’s work order has been completed and delivered to their agent, often as late as 10 p.m.
Jaeni, like the vast majority of homeworkers, is paid on a “piece rate” basis. She generally receives Rp 250 (US$0.018) for each pair of insoles completed. With the girls’ help and working well into the night the three can finish 200 pairs in a day and earn Rp 50,000 between them.
“When homeworkers want to earn more money, they must work extra hard and produce extra. This means that their husbands join in working, the kids join in, everyone in the household who can be involved in the work helps out. All these people are working but there is only one pay cheque,” explained Ahmad Vauzi, program officer at the Trade Union Rights Center (TURC) — an organization at the forefront of the fight for homeworkers’ rights in Indonesia.
Financial necessity and the blurring of boundaries between domestic life and work mean that the involvement of children is widespread across the industry.
“In many places, homeworkers involve their children in the production process which directly impacts on the quality of their education and brings associated health risks because of the unregulated working conditions,” said Irham.
With low pay and no formal work contracts, job security, or work cover women like Jainee and her daughters experience layered vulnerabilities.
Persistent norms regarding gender roles dictate that a married woman’s place is in the home. Homework is one of only a few ways that poorly-educated women can earn an income while completing the unpaid work — such as childrearing, cooking and cleaning — that they are expected to perform.
A 2018 study by the SMERU Research Institute demonstrates most women homeworkers surveyed in five regencies had attended only primary school or never attended formal schooling.
The same study reveals that almost all of the women homeworkers surveyed are paid in the bracket of Rp100.000 – 1 million monthly, well below the minimum wage set by all provinces.
Jaeni explained the money she lives in a cycle of borrowing money to pay off other loans. But, with underemployment in the area rife, Jaeni has no options but to continue taking workorders.
“If we don’t work hard, we don’t eat and the kids won’t go to school,” she laughed, though with a sad smile.
As the money she earns cannot fully cover living costs, having access to government social protection programs has been crucial for Jaeni and her family.
"Thank God we get some assistance from the government”, she said, adding that her family has access to health cover through the Indonesia Health Card (KIS) and a conditional cash transfer program through the Family Welfare Card (KKS).
Homeworkers are a huge workforce, but are hidden from public sight and because of this there is minimal community awareness of the workers and their vulnerabilities. They are one of the groups to benefit from the Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, locally known as MAMPU. The MAMPU program works with local partners, including TURC, to raise awareness, improve employment conditions and empower homeworkers in Indonesia. So far, the program has reached over 4,000 homeworkers across seven provinces .
The TURC organizes groups of homeworkers and provides training about workplace health and safety, workers’ rights, and negotiating with employers. At the national level they are pushing for a national regulation that will provide much need protections for the group. In 2018 TURC presented the Manpower Ministry with a completed draft ministerial regulation) regarding homeworkers and is lobbying for its adoption.
This draft regulation aims to provide state acknowledgement for homeworkers, providing them with increased employment security by mandating that businesses provide written contracts, work cover and health insurance to their homeworkers.
Amid lengthening global supply chains and companies looking to maximize profits, it will be a long road to ensuring decent working conditions for homeworkers.
Cooperation between civil society, government and programs like MAMPU can increase awareness of the group and their rights amongst policymakers and the community.
The private companies benefiting from their labor must also be a part of the solution by providing decent pay and ensuring working conditions are in line with human rights.
Legal protections for homeworkers and regulations about their pay and working conditions will help to mitigate some of the vulnerabilities that women like Jaeni and her family face; for this the above draft regulation provides a comprehensive starting point.
The writer is a development consultant.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.