Saudi Arabia spares Indonesian maid; bilateral labour negotiations continue

Updated On: Jul 14, 2011

In a move that seeks to ease tense relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, the Saudi government has spared an Indonesian housemaid from beheading, instead deporting her to Jakarta.

The two nations have been in talks since Tuesday in an effort to improve bilateral labour relations and diffuse a contentious situation that has emerged since the beheading of an Indonesian maid on June 18.  The maid was accused of killing her employer, but was not given proper diplomatic or legal protections.  A 12-member delegation from Indonesia is currently meeting with Saudi officials from the Ministry of Labour in Riyadh to discuss labour relations and potential future safeguards.

The freed housemaid, 26-year old Darsem Binti Dawud Tawar from West Java, was convicted of murder by a Saudi court in 2009 and was sentenced to death for killing her employer.  The murder allegedly followed a rape attempt by the employer.  The victim’s family pardoned Darsem in January of this year, but required that the Indonesian government pay a Rp 4.7 billion (US $549,900) blood money tribute, which it did in late June.

Following this showing of good will, Tatang Budie Utama Razak, Director for Protection of Indonesian Citizens and Legal Entities in Indonesia, stated that “there is renewed interest on both sides to continue negotiations on issues affecting our relations in the manpower sector.”  Talks so far have centered on the legal framework in place in Saudi Arabia to protect female workers.

About 1 million Indonesian migrant workers currently live in Saudi Arabia, and approximately 90 percent of them work as domestic servants.

Report: Saudi, Indonesian officials start talks to resolve recruitment crisis [Arab News, 14 Jul 2011]

After the June beheading of another Indonesian maid, Ruyati binti Satubi, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, worked quickly to secure the House of Representatives’ approval to use ministry money to pay the blood money requested by the family of Darsem’s victim.

Still, Darsem is just one case of an Indonesian worker sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia; currently 25 others are on death row, seven of whom will need to pay a total of US $1.2 million in blood money to avoid beheading.  

There is some controversy in Indonesia about which government department or agency should handle such matters.  Mahfudz Siddiq, a member of the House Commission that oversees foreign affairs, said that the manpower and Transmigration Ministry, as well as the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI) should be more involved in the process in the future, as they have a budget to pay blood money.

Report: Spared from the sword, maid reunited with family [Jakarta Post, 14 Jul 2011]

The issue of mistreatment of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations has been thrust into the spotlight since the June beheading.  The issue resulted in the Indonesian president announcing a temporary suspension of migrant workers’ placement in Saudi Arabia beginning on 1 Aug unless Riyadh signed an agreement to protect foreign workers.  In response, Saudi Arabia announced it would no longer issue visas for Indonesians starting on 8 July.

The rights of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia has long been a source of contention, with some governments of developing nations seeking to negotiate with the Saudi government for improved wages, working conditions, and legal protections for their workers.  The Philippines, for example, negotiated a minimum wage for its workers in Saudi Arabia set at $400 a month, even though Saudi officials sought to lower it to $200.  As a result of such negotiations, according to Saudi authorities, they are currently looking to other nations to recruit domestic help, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh, where labour laws are less strict and governments are less likely to seek safeguards.  

These issues are not going away any time soon, but governments of developing nations must stand firm in demanding that their workers in Saudi Arabia, and throughout the world, are safe, fairly compensated, and afforded proper diplomatic and legal protections.

Analysis: Saudi Arabia needs to ensure full protection for foreign domestic workers [Al Arabiya, 12 Jul 2011]

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