30 November 2010

Moratorium on Indonesian Migrant Workers to Saudi Arabia...

The standard practice in Indonesia is that whenever there is an issue and it is likely that the political parties can score points off of each other or take a dig at the president, warranted or otherwise, then they will hold a meeting and call the relevant Minister to account.

In the most recent case of cheap political point scoring whilst highlighting a complete lack of appreciation for the complexity of the problem, the Minister for Labour (some might argue for manpower...but women worked the last time I checked, and labour is gender neutral) was called before Commission X of the House of Representatives (DPR).

Commission X is the commission that is responsible for labour affairs. So, it makes sense that they have a legitimate interest in the recent allegations of torture and murder of Indonesian Migrant Workers (TKI) in Saudi Arabia. However, the meeting highlighted that the Commission had already adopted a position and was merely taking the Minister to task and threatening him in the even he did not roll over and play dead like a dog. Ribka Tjiptaning of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), and the Chair of the Commission, was really only interested in saying that everybody agrees there needs to be a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia and if the government ignored the DPR then there would be repercussions.

The Minister for Labor and Transmigration, Muhaimin Iskandar, took that in his stride and argued that there would not be a moratorium. The reality is the government could not afford a moratorium like the ones that have been imposed previously on Kuwait, Jordan and Malaysia.

According to Tjiptaning, the best option is to hand out cash to those individuals who are interested in going overseas to work until such time as the government creates sufficient jobs to employ them in Indonesia. What Tjiptaning is calling for is the creation of a welfare state. This may in fact be possible if the government and the relevant taxation agencies could organise themselves in a manner that would allow the collection of all tax that is due. The cash handouts that Tjiptaning envisages have got to come from some cash reserve that the government has at hand. The government does not currently have sufficient cash on hand to be able to maintain a welfare state of the size that Tjiptaning is asking for.

In terms of job creation. There is always going to be unemployment, but the goal is to get unemployment down to a level as low as it can possibly be. The government is not creating the jobs to pick up the slack if all Indonesians are suddenly prohibited from going overseas in the pursuit of gainful employment. This is why a moratorium would not work.

The other reason a moratorium would not work is that migrant workers send a lot of money home. These remittances total in the billions of dollars. This is a foreign revenue stream that benefits many Indonesians directly as it is their family members that are remitting money to them at locations throughout the archipelago.

It is pretty obvious that Tjiptaning was only interested in taking a cheap swipe at the president by citing the Philippines as an example of good migrant worker management. This example was cited because the president of the Philippines came out and defended migrant workers in a very public show of support. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) for all his short-comings has uttered the right amount of dismay and disgust at the recent happenings. Although, his idea of mobile phones for all migrant workers was a little over-ambitious and silly.

A more important issue is law enforcement. Indonesia does have a relatively comprehensive set of migrant labour laws in place. The biggest failing of these laws is the lack of proper enforcement. For example, if the law requires that a migrant worker receive 200 hours of training before departure then that is what they must receive. The reality is that not all migrant workers get that amount of training as migrant worker placement agencies cut corners in an attempt to maximize profits for themselves. This is clearly a law enforcement issue. Perhaps if law enforcement better policed migrant labour agencies and imposed maximum punishments as available under the law, then some of these problems would lessen in terms of the severity of the consequences endured by migrant workers overseas.

In any event, some of those calling for the prosecution of foreign national perpetrators of violence by Indonesian courts or extending the reach of Indonesian law in order that it operates in the foreign territories of other states, need to take some advice on how sovereignty works. The torture and brutalisation of Sumiati, for example, is a crime committed in Saudi Arabia. it is therefore a crime that must be prosecuted by the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia.

The answer is not a moratorium. The answer is better law enforcement at home. The answer is better equipped Indonesian Embassies in placement countries so that they have the personnel and the skills necessary to deal with any incidents as they arise.

Ho Hum...


rani said...

Yeah... promise to giving out cash and suddenly many people will show their urge desire to work in Saudi Arabia. Even those who already have jobs will probably quit. Hey, that creates job opportunities.

Rob Baiton said...

@ Rani...


The cash handouts that Ribka envisages would not be very much, and probably would not cover the basic needs of a family.

Politicians, good with ideas but bad with vision!

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