The Help.

I hired a housekeeper today.

They are pretty common, not only among expatriate staff, but also many Indonesians.  They are called pembantus which means “House help”  Sometimes they even export themselves to work abroad.. Or they are exported.  I saw an article recently about how Indonesian housekeepers are a great source of foreign income , but some are not treated well, and live in indentured servitude in the middle-east and elsewhere.

I was skeptical about the need for one.  I mean we cooked and cleaned back home okay.  Not white glove, but our home wasn’t a hovel.  But everyone here has told us we need one.  Not only to help with cleaning and laundry, but to help with food preparation.  Vegetables aren’t always the cleanest and if you want them fresh they need to be soaked in a light chlorine solution and carefully peeled. They’re also helpful with knowing what foods are in season and how to prepare them. They can help with childcare and in general keeping the house occupied when you’re away and dealing with other workers and repairmen.  They can also run errands which is a great help when a simple task can take 2 hours in a car.

Everyone I’ve spoken to around here gives similar suggestions about what to pay.  All seem to struggle philosophically with the idea, but all suggest 2.5 million rupiahs per month and qualify this by saying that Americans pay the most for their staff.  Not because of any rule, but maybe because of some collective guilt.  

Anyway, if you do the math Rp 2.5m figures to be $217 per month, or, for an 8 hour day, less than a buck and quarter an hour.  I know, I know.  I feel your shame, believe me, I do.  But, if you ask around, this is apparently a living wage.  The mandated minimum wage is actually less than this, which perhaps explains why there are so many workers in the grocery stores and shopping malls. Almost every aisle has it’s own worker to keep things in order and answer questions.

So, I got my pembantu’s name through a classified ad. Her current employer was moving back to Hong Kong.  She had good references and spoke pretty good English. We arranged a time to meet.  

My guilt totally wrecked any ability to negotiate. I offered the suggested 2.5 million. She said she usually gets Rp 3,000,000 per month. Or, $1.50 an hour.   And was I really going to haggle over an extra 25 cents per hour?  No, I wasn’t.

Could she have Rp 400,000 ($40)  a month for transportation. A dollar each way for the bus? Sure.

She asked for Rp 400,000 ($40) per year (yes, per year) for clothing?  Of, course, I want my employees to look nice, so if $40 is what it takes, then consider it covered. .

How about noodles?  Would I cover the cost of a $1 packet of ramen noodles every day for lunch? Yes, I will keep the kitchen stocked with a choice of flavors of noodles.

All that, plus 300 dollars annually for a holiday bonus, 300 dollars a year for out of pocket health care expenses, and $2.50 cents per month for health insurance.  (Yes, you read that correctly, the affordable care act has nothing on this place)  She got everything she requested and I still struggled with it. I even sprang for the coffee we had as Starbucks.

Mrs S.A.M cautioned me not to give in so easily.  “You can’t let them take advantage of you.”  Which I’m aware of, but is the best place to establish the power relationship really over a packet of noodles?  We do have probation period, so we’ll see in two months how we work with each other and to see if I’m getting my money’s worth.

Normally, I really, REALLY enjoy comments and I’m interested in hearing from others about this, but I do publish this with some trepidation.  Please be gentle.

P.S. If you can’t enough of this sort of stuff, read more from Mrs. S.A.M herself at AdventuresInWonderland4.blogspot.com.

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