Protecting Indonesia’s workers

Indonesian activists and workers take part in a protest to mark May Day or International Workers' Day in Jakarta on 1 May, 2019. (AFP Photo)

The ASEAN Post recently published an article regarding human rights abuses that Indonesia is said to have allegedly committed against Papuans. It is, however, equally important to remember that human rights abuses are also allegedly being committed against their own people as well. While this is not something that is unique to Indonesia when looking at the region as a whole nor even the world over, it is worth speaking about what is happening in Indonesia following president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s re-election as well as a new convention that seeks to combat at least one form of human rights abuse: violence and harassment in the workplace.

International Labour Organization (ILO) member governments, worker representatives, and employers’ organisations spent two years negotiating the text of the new convention. On 21 June it was reported that these groups voted overwhelmingly to adopt the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment, and an accompanying non-binding recommendation that provides guidance on the convention’s obligations.

It came as no surprise that non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke up commending the convention.

“Governments, workers, and employers have made history by adopting a treaty that sets standards for ending the scourge of violence and harassment in the world of work. The women who bravely spoke up about their #MeToo abuses at work have made themselves heard at this negotiation, and their voices are reflected in these important new protections,” said Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW.

Governments that ratify the treaty will be required to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence and to take preventive measures, such as information campaigns and requiring companies to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to monitor the issue and provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms, witness protection measures, and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistle blowers from retaliation.

The treaty covers workers, trainees, workers whose employment has been terminated, job seekers, and others, and applies to both formal and informal sectors. It also accounts for violence and harassment involving third parties, such as clients, customers, or service providers.

Labour unions call for better protection 

Over in Indonesia, labour unions have also applauded the new convention and have come forward urging the government to immediately ratify the treaty to provide better protection for workers in the country. 

An alliance campaigning for the end of violence, discrimination and harassment in the workplace said the convention provided hope for all workers, whether they worked in public spaces or private property. Lita Anggraini from the National Network for Domestic Worker Advocacy (Jala PRT), which is also a member of the alliance, told Indonesian media that it was time for the government to ratify the treaty on account of rampant violence and harassment in the workplace.

Source: ValueChampion

In Indonesia, incidences of sexual harassment continue to rise. Data from the Indonesian National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) shows that of the 259,150 cases of violence against women in 2016, some 3,495 were for domestic sexual harassment and 2,290 were for sexual abuse in the community or at the workplace.

Perhaps one of the more infamous cases that occurred not too long ago was one involving school teacher Baiq Nuril Maknun. In November last year, Baiq’s name was in the news after she was allegedly sexually harassed by her superior, the school’s principal, H Muslim.

Baiq Nuril had recorded conversations between her superior and herself to be used as legal evidence. To the shock of many, the Indonesian Supreme Court in Jakarta overturned a 2017 acquittal from a lower court and convicted Baiq Nuril of recording and spreading indecent material under the country’s electronic information and transactions law. In September, Baiq Nuril was sentenced to six months in jail and fined IDR500 million (US$34,000).

The case sparked criticism from activists and among members of the public who argue that Baiq Nuril was the actual victim of sexual harassment by Muslim. Executive Director of Amnesty Indonesia, Usman Hamid, said instead of looking at the abuse carried out by Muslim against Baiq Nuril, the system focussed on criminalising her actions to redress the abuse.

ILO’s new convention and the call by Indonesia’s labour unions will undoubtedly put Jokowi under the spotlight yet again. During his previous term as president he had failed to live up to several promises made to install human rights reforms. The new ILO convention comes as another test for Indonesia’s president and he is, yet again, being weighed and measured. Should he ratify the convention it will undoubtedly be accompanied by roaring applause from human rights advocates. Should he not, then it’s unlikely the history books will be kind to him.

Related articles:

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Criminalised victims of sexual harassment

Indonesia is ASEAN’s most unsafe country for women