Saudi Deal Won’t Be Migrant Labor Cure-All: Indonesian Minister

By webadmin on 10:09 pm Nov 30, 2010
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Dessy Sagita

Jakarta. While a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia is essential to protect migrant workers there, the foreign minister says better enforcement of existing regulations and an improved reporting system are more urgent.

The issue of worker protection abroad has come to the national fore in the wake of allegations of torture and even murder of Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia by their employers.

The House of Representatives has called for a freeze on sending workers to Saudi Arabia, but Muhaimin Iskandar, the minister of manpower and transmigration, has ruled this out, citing the ineffectiveness of similar moratoria in Jordan, Kuwait and Malaysia.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the key to ending abuse was to ensure that all those involved in migrant labor abided by existing regulations.

He added that Indonesia already had agreements on worker protection with Malaysia and Jordan, but many problems related to migrant workers there continued to crop up.

He also pointed out that while there was no such agreement with Hong Kong, the number of violations and abuse of Indonesian workers in the informal sector there was very low.

Marty attributed this to the fact that authorities and employers in Hong Kong had implemented and respected working contracts properly.

The minister said another facet of the problem was the fact that many workers went abroad undocumented or without the training necessary for their jobs.

“I’m not going to blame anyone for this, but these are the facts,” he said.

Illicit migrant worker placement agencies based in Indonesia are widely blamed for sending workers abroad illegally, as they profit from the commission they make from the workers’ wages.

The Manpower Ministry has pledged to crack down on the disreputable agencies.

Marty said there also needed to be a better system through which workers could report abuse. Currently, they must contact an embassy or consulate, but with only 119 Indonesian representative offices worldwide, migrants often find themselves out of reach of an official who can take a report.

Even if an Indonesian government office is nearby, many domestic workers are unable to leave their workplaces or contact the outside world, activists have said.

This year through October, the Foreign Ministry received some 4,500 reports of mistreatment from the more than three million Indonesians living overseas. Marty said the figure was underreported.

To resolve this, the ministry plans mobilize more task forces in countries that host large numbers of Indonesians, Marty said. These task forces will include Indonesian students and expatriates.

“These communities are part of our network; some of the cases regarding migrant workers were unearthed and reported by them,” he said.