Household staff in Indonesia: A beginner’s guide

hiring household staff Indonesia

Many expats come from countries where only the wealthy employ household staff. It can be hard to adjust to a place where even middle-class people have maids, cooks, drivers, nannies,  and guards. As a newcomer to Indonesia, you may feel uneasy about the loss of privacy. Or you may have the sense that it’s immoral to pay people to clean up after you. Conversely, it may thrill you to realize you never have to clean the floor while you live in Indonesia.

No one can tell you how to feel or how many household staff you should hire. But keep in mind that there is no need to feel guilty as long as you treat your employees with respect and provide them with decent wages and working conditions. Chances are, you aren’t just benefiting the individuals who work for you. You are also helping their family members who rely on the income from the job you are providing.

In this article, we’ll address the practicalities of finding and hiring household staff in the Indonesian context.



Step 1: Learn a few words

If your Indonesian language skills are weak, how do you explain the kind of household staff you are looking for? Or how do you know what someone is talking about in an advertisement? Here are some words used to describe household staff:

  • Pembantu – This word literally means “helper” but is usually used to refer to maids/cleaning staff. This is a very common term, and the one you are most likely to hear. But be aware that it is starting to fall out of favor among Indonesians, who are increasingly referring to “PRT” (pembantu rumah tangga), pronounced pay-air-tay.
  • Jaga – Although it’s not correct Indonesian, this is what many expat employers call their guards. Tukang jaga is more grammatical. Satpam are somewhat similar but these are official security staff hired by businesses and communities.
  • Sopir or supir (less often, pengemudi) – Driver.
  • Tukang masak, koki or rarely pemasak – Cook.
  • Tukang kebun – Gardener.
  • Tenaga serabuan – Houseboy.
  • Babysitter, suster, or pengasuh – If you encounter references to a “babysitter” (or even “babysister”!) in Indonesian, it probably refers to a full-time nanny. It’s not, as you may assume, someone you pay to watch your child for a few hours occasionally.

Step 2: Make sure your house is ready for household staff

Most homes/apartments have dedicated areas for household staff. Check to be sure your staff have access to a kitchen and bathroom in good repair, a place to rest, and bedrooms if you plan on live-in staff. If you will have full-time staff, provide storage cabinets (ideally with locks), a rice cooker, and a kompor (gas stove-top for cooking). Most employers provide a TV as well. Live in staff should have mattresses at a minimum, and possibly inexpensive bed frames. As a courtesy, you might consider providing each live-in person you hire with a “welcome kit” of a towel, soap, and gayung (large plastic ladle for bathing).

Step 3: Establish your employment conditions

When you employ household staff, you will need to make several decisions: do you want live-in or live-out help? What will their work hours be? How much will you pay?

Live in or live out?

Most job candidates have a clear preference which they will tell you up front. Individuals with no nearby family may want to live with you as they have no other home nearby. Others will be eager to return home each evening to be with children or other family members. It’s up to you to decide which you prefer.

The advantage of live-in staff is less need to make advance arrangements. They will be on hand if you would like an extra-early breakfast or help with a dinner party. Or they can care for your child if you spontaneously decide to go out for dinner.

Live-out staff offer you more privacy, but you may want to take a more active role in after-dinner clean-up thanks to the ants, roaches, and mice that will appreciate any dirty dishes that sit out all night waiting for the maid to arrive in the morning.

Work hours, overtime arrangements, and holidays

Live-out maids/cooks/nannies are generally expected to work from approximately 7:30 to 3:30 five to six days a week, with Sundays (and sometimes part or all of Saturdays) off. If you have a day guard and a night guard, they typically each work 12-hour shifts. Some people monitor the hours that staff work very carefully, and reprimand anyone who comes late/leaves early. Others don’t care, as long as the work is getting done. If you have a live-in cleaner or nanny, the arrangement tends to be more “on call” rather than with clearly defined hours.

Drivers need explicit arrangements for overtime pay; for example, they have a 10 or 12 hour work day and additional hours are compensated at Rp XX/hour, with a higher rate for holiday and Sunday overtime.

If you expect household staff to work on national holidays, this needs to be communicated up front, along with any extra compensation you will offer.

Most employers give 2-3 weeks of vacation at Idul Fitri (or the appropriate religious holiday for staff of other religions). It’s up to you to set whatever rules you want for days off during the rest of the year. Household staff will almost certainly need to be absent from time to time for their own or a relative’s illness, funerals, weddings, school conferences, etc. If you like, you can offer incentives to follow the rules you set by letting people cash out unused leave at the end of the year, or docking pay for too many days off.



Base wages

Wages are generally paid monthly, although no one will object if you choose a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. While it is informally acknowledged that minimum wage laws are not applied to domestic staff, many expatriates feel most comfortable matching minimum wages. Wages vary by province and change annually. You can Google “what is Indonesia’s minimum wage” to find current figures. As a general rule, cooks (especially ones experienced at Western food or other non-Indonesian cuisines), nannies, and drivers are paid the most; maids and guards make less. Expect to pay a premium for English-speaking skills. What people pay varies wildly, so your best bet is to ask your peers what they are paying. You can also pose a question on the Expat Indonesia forum, of course!

Benefits

You will be expected to provide a Tunjungan Hari Raya (THR) bonus, usually at Idul Fitri but potentially at Christmas time, according to the religion of your employees. For staff who have worked for you for a year or longer, the THR equals one month’s base salary. If staff have worked for you for less than a year, the THR is pro-rated. For example a staff member who has worked for you for 3 months will receive ¼ of a month’s salary.

Many employers separate out base wages from daily allowances for costs such as transport (for live-out staff who travel to work daily), food, overtime, etc. For example, an employer might pay Rp 3 million/month base wage, plus an additional Rp 15,000/day for transport and Rp 50,000/week for food. This arrangement has the advantage of lowering the total cost to the employer. If the employee doesn’t work, they don’t get their allowance. More significantly, the THR is calculated as a multiple of the base salary, not the allowances. On the other hand, keeping track of allowances is extra effort for the employer. You may wish to pay a higher monthly wage and dispense entirely with allowances – but you should explain this very clearly, as staff who are used to receiving allowances may be suspicious of a “no allowances” policy, even if it is to their financial benefit.

As an alternative to a food allowance, you may be expected to provide a steady supply of rice, sugar, oil, tea and other staples, especially for live-in staff.

Loan policy

Your staff will almost certainly ask you for loans at some point unless you make it clear when they are hired that you have a “no loan” policy. Some employers allow staff to take loans after they have been employed for a certain minimum period. If you permit loans, be sure to arrange a payback schedule at the time the loan is dispensed. For example: “You can take a loan of Rp 3,000,000 on the condition that you pay it back at a rate of Rp 500,000 per month.” Many employers limit the loans they give to no more than the amount of severance pay that would be owed to the employee if the employer were to terminate employment at the time the loan is being taken. This protects against having an employee quit when they have substantial outstanding debt.

Termination of an employee in good standing

If you terminate an employee for reasons other than wrong-doing (perhaps you are moving, or you no longer need a nanny), you should give severance pay equal to one month’s salary for each year the employee has worked for you.

Health insurance

Indonesia has a national health insurance plan (BPJS Kesehatan – see our article on BPJS) that is available to individuals for a small monthly premium. You can offer to pay this premium if staff provide you documentation of the amount. If your staff are not covered, you should encourage them to join. However, you can also agree to pay medical bills (usually up to a specified limit such as 1-2 month’s salary) for the employee and, if you feel so inclined, immediate family members. Make sure staff understand that you expect to see doctor/clinic/pharmacy bills, not just be told, “My daughter had an operation and it cost Rp 5 million, can you pay it?”

Step 4: Find candidates

It’s easy to find possible candidates, at least in Jakarta; you can look at on-line resources such as our forum, or at bulletin boards found at locations such as the Kemang Hero or the American Club. You can also sign up for the Upper Crust mailing list (send an e-mail to [email protected] and ask to be added). Mailings from Upper Crust include a classified advertisement section following the ads/menus for their catering services. Outside Jakarta, ask around to find out what resources are most commonly used.

By far the best way to find candidates is to rely on existing networks. If you already have a maid and you need a guard, and your maid (or a friend’s maid) knows someone who is looking for work, that person is likely to be a good choice – the maid’s credibility depends on it. Your maid will feel embarrassed and ashamed if you hire that guard and he turns out to be dishonest or lazy.

However you locate candidates, check references thoroughly. Do not accept old written references as your exclusive means of verifying past employment. These could be fake or may not tell the full story. You should be able to contact previous employers through e-mail or social media to get an interactive reference with details that a letter might not include, such as past salary, employee quirks, and so on.

Step 5: Conduct interviews

If you are considering candidates who don’t speak English, and you don’t speak Indonesian, ask a bilingual friend to help you conduct the interviews. Obviously, if you want staff who can communicate in English, the interview will be a good opportunity to assess their language skills.

Depending on the job you are hiring for, you will want to give a tour of the house (for cleaning staff), your car (for drivers), or your kitchen (for cooks). Obviously, if you are hiring a nanny, you’ll want to introduce the prospective employee to your child(ren) and see how they interact. Is the person you are hiring joining existing staff? If so, let the candidate spend a little time chatting with the people who already work for you.

At the end of the interview, be sure to give candidates transport money. The cost of traveling to interviews can be a hardship for unemployed people. Thank them for coming, and let them know when you expect to make a decision.

Interview questions

Questions you may want to ask include:

  • Tell me a little about yourself – Where are you from? Are you married? What does hour husband/wife do? Do you have children?*
  • Why did you leave your last job?
    Have you worked for [give your nationality, or just ask about foreigners] before?
  • (For nannies) Tell me about the children you have taken care of in the past.
  • (For cooks) What cuisines are you familiar with?
  • Have you taken any classes related to your job (for example, a first aid course for nannies; cooking classes for cooks)?
  • Tell me about your job responsibilities in previous jobs. Did you iron/do laundry/cook/take care of children/etc.?
  • (If relevant) Are you comfortable around dogs?
  • Are you a member of BPJS Kesehatan (the national health insurance scheme)? If not, are you willing to sign up for it?
  • Can you provide me with copies of your references and ways to contact past employers?
  • These are the conditions of employment (tell the candidate what you have decided about salary, hours, benefits, etc.). Are you willing to work under those conditions?
  • Do you have any questions for me about the job?

(*) For some of us from different cultural backgrounds, these questions may seem intrusive and possibly discriminatory. That is not the case in Indonesia, where questions you might consider “nosy” are expected. You should take advantage of the opportunity to learn about the candidate and show them you take interest in them as a person by asking these questions.

Step 6: Choose your favorite candidate

Obviously you should make a choice based on how you felt about each candidate in the interview and whether they have the skills you need (or if not, how much time you are willing to invest to train them). If candidates talked to existing staff, and you trust the people already working for you, you may want to ask them their opinion as well. Be cautious in hiring someone your current staff have a lukewarm reaction to. You may have to deal with squabbles and drama later on.

One other factor not to overlook as you make a choice is family relationships. Many couples work together in pairs, and people often work together with sisters, cousins or other relatives. This can be wonderful, as it promotes harmony and loyalty. It can also be a disaster if your nanny, maid, and guard are all related and an important wedding or funeral occurs. You can find yourself virtually unstaffed with no warning. If you simply can’t afford to have all your staff take off at the same time with no advance notice – for example, two working parents with toddlers at home – you may want to make sure that not all your staff are from the same family.

When you have selected your staff, be sure they give you a copy of their KTP (identity card) and an emergency contact for your files.

Step 7: Be a good employer

Some people are very friendly with their staff. They bring them on occasional trips, visit them in the kampung, learn about their employee’s families, and give birthday gifts. Others prefer a hands-off style. Either way is fine as long as you are a polite and fair employer. However, if you become entwined in your staff’s personal lives, expect your responsibilities (wedding gifts, loans, etc.) to expand accordingly.

These are a few things good employers tend to do:

  • If your employee does extra work, such as for a big dinner party, give an extra tip even if it is not technically required by the terms of employment you have agreed to.
  • Understand that you may be expected to intervene in disputes in situations that feel odd to you. Depending on how well your household staff get along and what your own cultural expectations are, you may feel more like a mom or dad disciplining siblings than an employer of independent adults. This is cultural; try to be flexible.
  • Work out a system for household finances. For example, keep a supply of money in a drawer, with the understanding that staff will place receipts there for all household payments they make.
  • Show them how to use appliances such as a washing machine, dryer, vacuum cleaner. Don’t assume they are familiar with these gadgets. Even if they are, your brand or model may be different from what they have seen before.

Interested in hearing more about employing household staff in Indonesia?  Check out Atlantis’ interesting experience with hiring household staff.

More Practical Info Articles

About Puspawarna 2 Articles

Puspawarna is an American who has lived all but 4 of the last 30 years abroad, in the Federated States of Micronesia, Mozambique, Egypt – and of course, in Indonesia, where she has spent over 16 years. Now mostly retired, she considers herself amazingly lucky to have found employment as a writer/editor in 5 countries, despite being a “trailing spouse.” She loves playing Javanese gamelan, cooking, and gardening, and spends her time trying to improve her skills at all of them.