The Politics of Bondage in the Recruitment, Training and Placement of Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers
Sociologus, 2009, 02
Indonesia is one of the major labour sending countries in contemporary Asia. While Indonesians, and especially the Javanese, have a long tradition of mobility, what has been called the "institutionalisation" of labour exporting started in the 1870's, under Dutch colonial rule. At that time, migrant workers originating from Java were mostly male "coolies" sent to work as indentured labourers on mines and plantations on the Indonesian Outer Islands. Nowadays, women represent the overwhelming majority of migrant workers departing from Indonesia, and most of them are sent abroad as domestic workers. Interestingly, even though indentured labour has officially been abolished in Indonesia in 1932, the contemporary system of contract labour migration is in many ways very similar to nineteenth and twentieth century indentured labour. By looking in particular at the practices of state and non-state actors involved in the "export" of Indonesian maids to Malaysia, this paper seeks to analyse the processes that migrant domestic workers go through in Indonesia before being able to migrate to Malaysia and how these processes affect their situation both before and after their departure. In fact, the moment of "pre-departure" lasts for months and involves many different actors, such as local brokers, recruitment agents or government officials - the overwhelming majority of whom are male. Developed in the context of a comparative research on bonded labour in Southeast Asia and grounded in ethnographic research carried out both in Indonesia and Malaysia, this paper focuses on one particular stage of international labour migration. It aims at understanding whether and how the particular "moment" of pre-departure eventually gives rise to contemporary forms of bondage in transnational domestic service.