x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Indonesia and Saudi Arabia work to improve conditions for household workers

Delegations seek to solve dramatic drop in domestic helpers from Indonesia coming to Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH // Saudi and Indonesian officials, seeking to resolve differences over employment conditions for Indonesian household workers in the kingdom, have agreed to draft a memorandum of understanding within six months.

Delegations from both countries met in Jeddah on Saturday in a bid to break their months-long stalemate that has led to a dramatic drop in the number of domestic workers coming from Indonesia.

The two sides signed a statement of intent under which they will set up a joint working committee to draft the memorandum, according to Hendrar Pramutyo, minister of consular affairs in the Indonesian embassy in Riyadh.

In return, the Indonesian government agreed to drop two conditions it had imposed in March before it would agree to restore the flow of workers to Saudi Arabia. Mr Pramutyo said that Jakarta had abandoned demands for photographs of prospective employers and for maps of their homes.

Another Indonesian demand, for verification of a prospective employer's salary to ensure it can cover salaries for household help, will be discussed by the working committee, Mr Pramutyo said.

Also, the Indonesian diplomat said the Saudis indicated they were open to discussing a raise in the average monthly salary of 800 Saudi riyals (Dh783) for Indonesian housemaids.

Saad Al Baddah, head of the Saudi National Recruitment Committee, said that the MOU will include "all the matters" relating to Indonesian workers. For the first time in Saudi Arabia, he added, employers of household staff will be asked to take out an insurance policy that will reimburse both employers and workers in the event of losses should either renege on their contracts.

Labour minister Adel Faqieh, who headed the Saudi delegation, told the Saudi Gazette newspaper that his government would not be involved in setting wages, leaving that up to the laws of supply and demand.

Indonesia, along with the Philippines, is seeking greater protections for its workers in the kingdom after several highly publicised incidents involving abuse of its nationals, including the maiming of an Indonesian housemaid last November.

Indonesians and Filipinos make up the majority of household staffers, including maids, drivers and gardeners, in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 250,000 Filipinos and 900,000 Indonesians working in these jobs, according to labour sources from both countries.

Mr Pramutyo said the meeting's atmosphere was "very good, full of understanding and based on a brotherhood spirit". He said that the Saudi side understood why the Indonesians want to see the rights of their workers protected.

He noted that both Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are members of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.