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Domestic Help in Indonesia

For many newcomers to Jakarta, the thought of hiring household staff seems quite foreign - a luxury reserved for the fortunate few. In Jakarta, however, having household staff is a part of everyday life for Indonesians and foreigners alike. Your staff will not only be an enormous help to you around your home, but will also serve as your first window into Indonesian culture, a sort of liaison between two worlds. At the same time, you will be providing much needed jobs and financial support to your staff.

The first thing to consider when hiring staff would be your own personal household needs. Do you have a large house? A small apartment? Do you have children? A large garden or pool? Listed below are the different types of domestic helpers, or pembantu, who will be available for hire.

For a single person or a couple in a small apartment a part-time live-out maid, plus a driver, will probably be adequate, but for a family in a large house with a garden a team of 4 to 5 people is recommended to keep the household running smoothly. The division of duties is very flexible and some of the jobs mentioned above can be combined, such as maid/laundress or houseboy/gardener.

In order to maintain harmonious relationships amongst the staff it can be a good idea to choose people from the same ethnic group, or to allow the most senior staff member, usually the cook, to give recommendations or advice on selecting the others.

When you have decided on what sort of helpers you need, the next question is where to find them. In Jakarta there are various ways to locate and set up interviews with potential staff for your home. Perhaps the very best way is through word-of-mouth from friends and colleagues as you will have personal references to go by. Another excellent source is community bulletin boards, where expatriates who are leaving the country often post notices in order to place their staff. Often you will have the chance to speak with the former employer. These bulletin boards are found in many supermarkets, clubs and organizations frequented by the expatriate community. However, to ensure authenticity of information, it is recommended to choose staff from boards that are not accessible to the general public and are located inside the buildings of the clubs and organizations.

If you need additional assistance, the Jakarta International Community Center (Tel. (6221) 7179 1835) holds a servants' registry two mornings a week staffed by volunteers who will help expatriates to interview prospective staff members if necessary. Another way to source staff is from other helpers' friends and family. It is possible that someone who is working for a friend may know of someone who is looking for work. Indonesians normally would not recommend just anyone, as it is seen as a loss of face if that person does not work out.

What to ask when interviewing a potential servant will depend a great deal on your own household needs and the duties involved, but perhaps the most important thing to go by is your own instinct or personal feelings about the person you are interviewing. Remember that this person will play a large role in your personal life in Jakarta, and will be spending a lot of time with both you and your family. Don't hire anyone that you do not feel comfortable with or trusting of no matter how glowing his or her references might be. A person's nature is often more important than his or her skill when you will be living in the same household. With luck, you may find someone with whom you and your family will establish a long and warm relationship for years to come.

Listed below are a few recommended questions you may wish to ask when interviewing:

• Identification and Personal Details. Find out as much as possible about family, children, what village they are from, how long they have been in Jakarta, etc. Ask to see their original KTP (identity card) and driver's license and should you decide to employ them always make a copy of your employee's KTP, or identity card, on the first day of employment and keep this in a secure place.

• Experience. Usually, you will be handed a few letters of reference to read, written by former employers. If possible contact the referee to ensure that they are authentic. These will normally give a description of the length of employment, the duties that were performed, any particular skills, as well as personal attributes. Sometimes these will be glowing, other times more to the point. Ask questions that outline experience specifically; for example, if you are interviewing a cook who tells you that he or she is familiar with preparing Western food, ask him or her to explain some examples of the kinds of dishes prepared. This will give you a better idea of his or her ability.

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