Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Migrant workers want age limits dropped

National News - February 16, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lawyers filing a judicial review of the law on migrant workers said Thursday that anyone over the age of 18 should be allowed to find a job overseas without the help of a manpower recruitment agency.

The limitations placed on people under the age of 21 seeking to work abroad, as stipulated in the law on the placement and protection of migrant workers, violates people's right to find employment, lawyers Sangap Sidauruk and Kurnia Wamilda Putra told the Constitutional Court.

"A person's psychological and emotional maturity are not a matter of whether they have already reached the age of 21. There are people who are not 21 who are emotionally and psychologically mature," Sidauruk said.

Kurnia said if authorities wanted to determine the emotional maturity of workers, they should give them psychological tests.

He also told the court that the article in the law stipulating that anyone who wants to work for an individual employer, such as housemaids, must be at least 21 is discriminatory and violates the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees all citizens the right to work.

The article does allow people who are at least 18 years old to work overseas, but until they are 21 they must go through a manpower agency.

The lawyers are representing a group of migrant workers between the ages of 18 and 20. They have asked the court to review the article in question, as well as another section of the law that says anyone who wants to go abroad as a domestic worker must be "emotionally mature", to prevent the possibility of being sexually harassed while on the job.

Sidauruk said, "Sexual harassment, in fact, is experienced mostly by those over the age of 21."

Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno, who was present at the hearing, said people below the age of 18 were not as well equipped to protect themselves against violence and harassment.

"When we (the ministry and the lawmakers) set the age limit, we considered that people who are 21 years old or above are more mature and better able to protect themselves from violence ...," Erman said.

"We were also taking into account countries that have set age requirements (for arriving overseas workers). Malaysia accepts only people who are 23 years old or above, while Saudi Arabia and Singapore have set age limits at 21," he said.

According to Erman, in 2004 of the 3.9 million Indonesians working overseas, 16 percent faced problems at their places of work, including sexual and physical abuse, and unpaid salaries. That figure, the minister said, has since gone down to 14 percent as a result of the law.

In response, Kurnia said age restrictions were not the only way to protect workers from abuse.

"The government could think of other ways, like providing insurance, asking the country's representatives overseas to carry out proper controls or requiring manpower agencies to tighten the selection of workers," he said.

The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry's director general for the empowerment and protection of Indonesian overseas workers, I Made Arke, said during the hearing: "At certain points, workers under the age of 21 cannot overcome problems like asking about their unpaid salaries."

He added that in many cases it was difficult for the government to help workers facing trouble. "Some countries do not allow our representatives to enter and inspect houses where our workers are employed." (06)



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