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The Need to Raise the Wage of Indonesian Overseas Workers

Aris Ananta
Evi Nurvidya Arifin

Perhaps, the death of Muntik Bani, an Indonesian worker in Malaysia, was the most abusive case in 2009. She was severely beaten by her employer causing broken backbone and right wrist, bruises on her face as well. She was found and locked in the bathroom for two-days without food and water when the police raided her employer’s home after a tip-off from a neighbour. When she was rescued, she was really weak and could not move anymore and died after a nearly one-week hospitalization at Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang, Malaysia.

Her death sparked anger among Indonesians. Staff of Migrant Care, an NGO dedicated to Indonesian overseas workers, staged a rally in front of Malaysian Embassy, Jakarta, demanding the responsibility of the Malaysian government for her death. The NGO called on the Indonesian government to ensure Muntik’s employers receive the fair punishment. It was reported that the employers, husband and wife, had been arrested and faced murder charges.

As reported in Jakarta Globe daily on 03 November 2009, many Indonesians workers also lived in poor conditions and are treated like slaves in Middle Eastern countries. The government of Indonesia has then reacted to stop sending workers to these countries. As a first step, the government planned to repatriate 1,750 Indonesian migrant workers with priority to those who have been treated unfairly.

In short, the cases of abuse, torture, unpaid salary and mis-treatment of Indonesian workers have been found in almost all receiving countries. The number of cases keep rising despite efforts by civil organizations and the government of Indonesia as well as governments of receiving countries to solve and prevent the problems. Interestingly, at the same time, the flow of low skilled Indonesians to work abroad has kept rising rapidly. Why does this happen?

There are several possible explanations. First, the Indonesians have generally been better-off and more educated. Having more money means that Indonesian can afford going abroad as the workers have to shoulder all the cost of recruitment, placement, and post-employment (returning home). Better education means they have better and wider opportunities to be employed overseas.

Second, the thirst for new experiences (particularly being abroad) has been on the rise and in turn working abroad has been a dream of many young Indonesians, including the low skilled workers. Third, the demand from foreign countries, which suffer from shortage of labours, was high.

Fourth, the government of Indonesia has supported and even promoted the “export” of low skilled workers with the aim of promoting economic growth. Fifth, recruitment, placement, and post-employment (return) of the workers have become a particularly lucrative, promising, business in both the sending and receiving countries. The workers pay directly to the business or by not receiving their salaries for months in the beginning of their employment. The business has campaigned actively, supported by the government, to encourage Indonesians to work abroad.

The problem seems to stem from the excess demand for the Indonesian workers. On 14 December 2009, the Minister of Manpower and Transmigration, Republic of Indonesia, admitted that the excess demand has resulted in “forced” deployment of Indonesian workers. To fulfill this excess demand, unqualified workers have been sent abroad. Mr. Muhaimin Iskandar, the Minister, further said that the “forced” workers include those who had not received sufficient training or/ and they are under age. As a result of the excess demand, he mentioned, there were many falsification of documents.

To solve this problem, the Minister has decided to stop sending the workers who have not finished the training. A director at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration said that the potential workers should have a competency certificate by Lembaga Sertifikasi Profesi (Professional Certification Institute). There will be no certificate if they have not been trained for 200 hours or 21 days. It is still not clear, however, whether the quality can be measured by only attending a training for 200 hours or 21 days. It is neither sure that there will not be any “black market” in getting the certificate—a possibility that some of the workers may get the certificate in return for some rewards from the workers to those who issue the certificate.

Another possible solution is to raise the wage of the workers. Indeed, the market is characterized by excess demand. Indonesian workers have been most often deliberately “sold” at lower wages compared to foreign workers from other countries such as Philippine. Making at lower prices (wages) is expected to increase the number of workers sent abroad. The wage is not really decided by the market, but by negotiations between sending and receiving countries’ representatives.

Following the market mechanism, an increase in the price (wage) of the workers will be a better alternative. The employed workers will be happier because they receive higher salaries. They can also pay better to the business, who conducts the recruitment, placement, and return of the workers. With higher revenue from the higher paid workers, the business can produce better quality of workers and empower the workers. The empowerment of the worker is expected to much reduce the cases of abuse, torture and mis-treatment..

Of course, the government of Indonesia and civil society must also be actively involved in reducing abuse and mis-treatment through other means, and not simply relying on raising the wage of the workers.

Another important recommendation to the Minister is to change the paradigm: away from using Indonesian workers as source of economic growth. Indonesia should only send workers abroad only if it is for the benefit of the worker themselves, rather than seeing it as source of remittances and lucrative business of recruitment, placement, and returning of Indonesian workers. Indonesians are not commodities to be exported.

(Aris Ananta is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. Evi Nurvidya Arifin is a Visiting Research Fellow at the same institute. The opinion expressed here does not necessarily reflect that of the institute.)

21 December 2009

Filed under: economy, English, international migration, migration, , , , , , ,

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