Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Migrant workers 'need skills' to protect against abuse

The Jakarta Post
National News - February 14, 2007

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has appointed Jumhur Hidayat to head the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labor (BNP2TKI). The new institution, which will begin operating in March, was formed to ensure affordable, safe and rapid labor export procedures, and to provide more protection for migrant workers. Jumhur recently outlined his programs in an interview with The Jakarta Post's Ridwan Max Sijabat.

Question: What will be the focus of the new agency?

Answer: We will first of all mend the recruitment process and the training system to ensure the cheap, safe and rapid export of trained workers. Only authorized labor exporters will be allowed to recruit workers, which will be coordinated and supervised by the BNP2TKI and its regional offices. Manpower and transmigration agencies, village heads and labor brokers will no longer be allowed to get involved in the recruitment process.

The recruitment costs will be cut as much as possible, while the revenue structure will be evaluated to prevent labor exporters from extorting workers. All necessary documents must be ready within two weeks to give workers time and cost-certainty, and to avoid any red tape in applying for the documents.

All training centers belonging to the government and local administrations will be deployed to provide training for overseas-bound workers.

Why are you giving priority to labor recruitment?

The recruitment process is the decisive factor in labor protection. Prospective migrant workers have to be trained to master the language of the country where they will be employed and to acquire certain skills that will enable them to meet the market's minimum qualifications. Being fluent in the language and having the necessary skills, workers will be able to solve any troubles they may face during their departure and return, and minimize problems they might face in the workplace. These skills constitute basic protection for workers.

In the workplace and during their trip to and from their destination country, workers will be insured and will be given access to diplomatic and legal protection, either from the Indonesian embassies or lawyers, when they have disputes with exporters, foreign labor agencies or employers.

What is your comment on the problem of the abuse of Indonesian workers overseas?

We have yet to conduct a survey or investigation into this issue, but by studying media reports we have identified a number of problems and conditions which are the main causes of the abuse. The lack of supervision has allowed labor exporters to send untrained or less-trained workers overseas in a bid to make money immediately.

We have to bear in mind that Indonesia sends around 640,000 workers overseas, and most of them come from remote regions, only graduated from elementary school or junior high school and are employed as maids. They will certainly have trouble in their workplace unless they are properly trained, because they are not familiar with modern household appliances such as refrigerators, electric irons, washing machines, rice cookers and many other appliances that they don't know how to operate.

It is also the government's responsibility to enhance bilateral ties with recipient countries in order to push them to protect our workers. The law requires the government supply workers only to countries which have signed bilateral agreements with Indonesia and have ratified the ILO convention on the protection of migrant workers and their relatives.

We will review the supply of workers to Saudi Arabia and other countries where Indonesian workers' rights are not fully respected, despite the huge market there.

What will be the new agency's contribution to labor protection?

The agency is set up to facilitate a cheap, safe and rapid departure of workers abroad, and to provide integrated services, including protection, for workers. Like a similar agency in the Philippines, it will serve as a bridge between all relevant government offices to draw up and implement the better policies and regulations needed to facilitate labor exports.

How will you deal with illegal workers?

It is a chronic issue. Besides law enforcement, we will be campaigning to make it more attractive for labor exporters to minimize the number of people working overseas without documentation. Many undocumented workers have entered Malaysia and other countries because they do not know how to go through all the legal procedures, and many others have been deceived by domestic and international syndicates. Harsh punishments will be imposed on those involved in human trafficking.

What is your main target for labor exports?

First of all, labor exports must continue in a smooth and safe manner. The protection of workers and improving their welfare is our main priority. Second, we are also targeting high school graduates with certain skills in urban areas.

We are optimistic that within the first few years we will be able annually to send overseas at least 750,000 semi-skilled workers, who will earn relatively more money for their work. This will not only help the government reduce the unemployment and poverty rates, but also increase the annual remittances sent back to Indonesia by migrant workers to Rp 500 billion from the current Rp 350 billion.


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