Midwife Yati Maryati, 37, is worried about interacting with her children every time she returns home from the community health center (Puskesmas) where she works in Jakarta. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has worn a mask everywhere she goes, even at home.
But Yati and her husband have to keep working to pay for loans and living expenses for their family, while keeping their three children entertained at home as schools are closed.
“Maybe we need a work-from-home policy so that we have more time to take care of the kids,” said Yati, suggesting that she work remotely two or three days a week.
The fast-evolving COVID-19 situation has forced many parents like Yati to do whatever it takes to provide for their families during the pandemic.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo first urged the public to work and study from home in mid-March, which was followed by the enactment of a regulation allowing the Health Ministry to authorize certain regional administrations to impose large-scale social restrictions (PSBB).
Now, the government is looking to gradually reopen the economy with heightened health protocols under so-called new normal measures. The government has mulled over some scenarios, including allowing people under 45 years old to return to the workplace to prevent more people from being laid off.
As the global community will celebrate the Global Day of Parents on June 1, experts in Indonesia are calling on companies and the government to enact family-friendly policies to support working families and minimize negative consequences for children.
University of Indonesia (UI) family sociologist Rosa Diniari disagreed with the planned age-based policy and said work-from-home policies should still be put in place to allow parents and children to have time to nurture their kids.
“Because it is not only about working from home but also working for home,” she said.
She doubted whether teachers were ready to monitor their pupils over the use of masks, hand washing and physical distancing if schools were reopened during the new normal protocols.
Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) commissioner Retno Listyarti cited its online survey on May 28 that showed the majority of respondents had rejected the idea of reopening schools due to concerns about their children’s safety and health.
The Education and Culture Ministry recently played down the possibility of schools reopening during the new normal.
UI education psychologist Rose Mini Agoes Salim said employers must arrange a more flexible work policy for parents and focus on their work output instead.
Additionally, she urged parents to manage their expectations over their child's educational performance, control their emotions, think critically to solve problems and sort out their priorities, as a lack of such preparation could cause parents to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 struggles.
“Just like the coronavirus, the parent’s stress could also spread to their children,” she said. “To prevent it, we need to develop important life skills and see everything realistically.”
Experts say authorities should also simplify their education assessment criteria and whittle curricula down to only essential studies, considering that the pandemic has hindered children's development and the learning process.
Similar to the experts’ arguments, three United Nations agencies wrote a report recommending employers to implement flexible work arrangements, provide appropriate childcare options and support workers in coping with stress and personal safety.
“By giving working parents the time, information, services and resources they need to cope with the crisis, family-friendly policies and practices can make a critical difference,” the report reads.
Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) deputy chairman for labor affairs Bob Azam claimed that the majority of companies had applied work-from-home policies.
Some employers have provided paid leave in case their employees need more time with their families, and they have taught workers about personal hygiene, organizational skills and contingency planning, which, according to Bob, was useful for those who worked remotely.
Bob encouraged other employers to hold online classes involving families, such as finance management classes.
“Employees are the assets of companies. So we have to treat our assets to the best of our abilities,” he said.
He also urged the government to allow for hourly wages and flexible working hours in order to provide leeway for working parents who needed more time to take care of their children.
The government has hinted at the possibility of introducing hourly employment for certain professions under the controversial omnibus bill on job creation. Labor unions, however, have rejected the bill, fearing that it would undermine their right to a living wage.
Working parents are not the only ones concerned about their family’s future. Lawyer Azhar M. Akbar, a newlywed, said he was worried about the health of his unborn baby. His wife – a doctor at a hospital in Bandung, West Java – is eight months’ pregnant with their first child.
“As the current conditions have yet to improve, I hope that our employers will extend the work-from-home period, especially for my wife since her workplace has a high risk [of COVID-19 infection],” he said.