Thursday, September 21, 2006

Treat migrant workers fairly, Yudhoyono says

National News - August 30, 2006

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Tuesday all parties involved in labor export activities to provide migrant workers with equal treatment as the best protection for them, saying they deserved "red-carpet treatment" for their contribution to the nation.

He believed the widespread abuse, including rampant extortionary practices, was tied to a disdainful attitude common among employers, labor exporting companies and government agencies, who considered the mostly female workers to be "inferior".

"In the labor contract, migrant workers and their employers are in an equal position," Yudhoyono said at the opening of a designated lounge for migrant workers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng.

"Workers give a service while employers pay for their service. Workers also deserve better service to obtain documentation from government offices to work overseas because the government could not give them any jobs at home. Upon their arrival home, they should be given the red carpet for their service in contributing to the country's foreign exchange."

Newly returning migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to extortion as they pass through the airport and attempt to return to their hometowns, often in Central and East Java.

The President said the special lounges to be provided at air and sea entry points must be free of thugs and unauthorized officials to create a feeling of security among the workers.

"And this is part of the reform of the labor export to facilitate Indonesian job seekers to work abroad," he said.

During the ceremony, the President simultaneously inaugurated similar facilities at Tanjung Priok Seaport in North Jakarta, the Juanda International Airport and Tanjung Perak Seaport in Surabaya, East Java.

But labor agencies criticized the establishment of the special lounges, arguing it would actually create more opportunities for the fleecing of workers.

"With the special lounge, the labor extortion will continue because migrant workers will be isolated and hidden from the public eye. If the President is consistent with his own statement, he should not allow the establishment of the special lounges and let migrant workers to go out from the passenger terminal and lounges," said labor exporter Adrie Nelwan.

Other labor exporters said they suspected Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno took the action to prop up his image ahead of a rumored Cabinet reshuffle.

Erman called on reporters and migrant workers to report on any extortion to him or his office to take further action.

He said it was unlikely that thugs and unauthorized officers would be able to continue to practice in the special lounges because rate exhanges and transportation fares to hometowns were already set.

He added that similar facilities would be established in other seaports and airports to ensure better services to the migrant workers.

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