Female worker protection: a duty far from over

Timboel Siregar Advocacy Coordinator of BPJS Watch and General Secretary of All Indonesian Workers’ Organization-Indonesian Workers’ Society Confederation (Organisasi Pekerja Seluruh Indonesia-Konfederasi Rakyat Pekerja Indonesia – “OPSI-KRPI”)

IO – As is the norm each year, when celebrating Kartini Day on April 21, all Indonesian people commemorate struggle of Ibu Kartini (today remembered as the icon of women’s emancipation in Indonesia) to empower women in her time. Of course, the spirit of Kartini is still quite relevant, considering that there are still many women today who continue to fight for their rights – in fact, normative rights, already mandated by regulations.

It has also become a norm during the celebration of Kartini Day for officials to make statements aimed at showing their support of women. Such declarations are useful in the quest to continue motivating women to strive for their welfare. However, these statements have unfortunately not been backed up by concrete efforts to better women’s place in society.

One of the public officials who gave out the statement on Kartini Day was Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah. She declared that her Ministry continues to pay special attention and is committed to empowering female workers, including protecting and ensuring that their rights are fulfilled. First, through protective policy in providing protection for female workers related to reproductive function, such as period leave, 1.5-month pre-delivery leave and another 1.5 months of post-delivery; miscarriage leave, breastfeeding break, and the prohibition of employing pregnant women on night shifts.

Secondly, through a curative policy in prohibiting retrenchment of female workers due to marriage, pregnancy, or delivery. And third, through a non-discriminatory policy in providing protection for female workers concentrating on gender discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace.

Of the three policies, it is a fact that these normative rights have been regulated for a while, but there are still many problems in their imple-

mentation. The Ministry should come up with something new to ensure that there is better protection for female workers than what is already in force.

With regard to reproductive function, it’s time for the Manpower Minister to support the implementation of 14-week maternity leave instead of an existing 12 weeks (1.5 months each for pre and post delivery). Many companies have implemented 14week maternity leave to support the protection of female workers’ reproductive rights.

Naturally, post-delivery, female workers ought to be encouraged and enabled to breastfeed their children. In principle, the state provides legal protection for working women who breastfeed their infants through Article 83 of Law No. 13/2003 on manpower which reads: “Entrepreneurs are under an obligation to provide proper opportunities to female workers/ labourers whose babies still need breastfeeding to breast-feed their babies if that must be performed during working hours.”

That provision has not been fully implemented in the workplace. Many female workers have to leave their babies at home after their maternity leave ends, because of the unavailability of space for breastfeeding at work or the absence of any child care facility, as well as public transportation for commuting – which is not really safe for newborns. Thus, in line with the aforementioned regulation, there should be a breakthrough from the Manpower Ministry to ensure that all female workers are able to breastfeed their children during working time.

Female workers in several business sectors are also vulnerable to being retrenched, considering that employers often judge them merely from physical appearance, resulting in working women who have reached the age of 35 or 45 being laid off for no obvious reasons.

This trend can easily be observed in those who work in the service sec-

tor, such as shop assistants or flight attendants. In a perfectly productive age, they are often easily dismissed unilaterally, without adequate compensation as stipulated by prevailing manpower regulations. Many of them are also not covered by social security, so they do not have insurance protection at work, or savings / pension in their senior years to maintain the purchasing power of their households.

The government continues to allow this to happen, without being able to provide solutions to the problems faced by these aging female workers. They are left on their own, unemployed and powerless, when the government is supposed to empower them so they can remain productive.

Many female workers nowadays are employed as homeworkers who complete orders from companies from their own residence. Companies may do this as a cost-cutting measure. Without social security protection and decent wages, these women workers are also part of the informal workforce, who do in fact add value to industry.

Furthermore, with the passage of the Job Creation Law (juncto Government Regulation No. 36/2021 on Wages) which codifies a formula for calculating hourly pay for part-time workers, more women will be attracted to join industry. They are at risk, without social security protection and decent wages or other normative rights. Since their status is that of a part-time worker, they can be easily be laid off for no apparent reason.

There will hopefully be a stronger commitment from the Manpower Minister to protect female workers, while the Ministry should create a special empowerment program for them, in the form of training, access to capital and markets so that they can become entrepreneurs, which in turn will open up more job opportunities for the public, including returning female migrant workers from overseas.