The persistent perception one gets from all the reports about our migrant labor is that we consistently welcome the billions in remittances from their blood, sweat and tears. Yet policies since the 1980s also display a superficial sense of urgency in ensuring the security and welfare of millions of our men and women working far from home, many of them in high-risk situations.
The Malaysian news agency Bernama reported recently that Indonesian workers sent home $6.1 billion last year despite unresolved labor agreements; of this sum, $2.1 billion alone came from Indonesians working in Malaysia. The total sum from the estimated 4 million workers was said to be lower than the $6.7 billion sent home in 2010, according to the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers. Real figures would be much higher as the sum does not include money sent through non-bank institutions.
The following day, this newspaper reported that lawmakers would overhaul the 2004 Overseas Labor Placement and Protection Law to improve protection for our migrant workers. Some 20 years after Indonesian workers began contributing to their economy, we have yet to show our resolve for their well-being.
Instead, NGOs focusing on migrant labor report the increasing numbers of workers, mostly women, on death row in the Middle East.
The Manpower and Transmigration Ministry’s announcement that out of a few hundred companies, 46 labor recruitment agencies were not fit to operate reflects a continuation of previous policies regarding the supervision of such agencies. However, the repeated failure of so many agencies to meet adequate conditions shows the lack of supervision and coordination among the many government bodies involved in the lucrative business of migrant labor placement.
Moratorium policies are admirable as they show our government’s political will to stand up for their citizens’ protection even as we need every cent of their remittances. But often we hear mere rhetoric ― take the pledge of Minister Muhaimin Iskandar, for instance, to “never again” send workers to Jordan, while Jordan is in fact low down on the list of preferred destinations for our migrants.
With the gathering of thousands of residents in Indramayu, West Java, two weeks ago, as also reported on the ministry’s website, Muhaimin said rather than becoming housekeepers in Jordan, where protection and wages have been found to be lacking, our workers would be better off doing the same job in Indonesia.
A laughable statement if it weren’t so tragic. Indramayu is one of the country’s areas that send scores of its locals abroad each year due to the lack of job opportunities back home. They would certainly not opt for the easier process of being housemaids in Jakarta, where wages and work conditions are largely left to the whims of employers.
Therefore, for all the rhetoric and moratoriums, Indonesia has failed to gain a respected voice regarding its migrant labor, as the world can see we grossly lack the necessary bargaining position.
A moratorium against sending workers to Saudi Arabia or any other country cannot last long while our women see no other way to feed their families and send their children to school, even in the face of so many reports of abuse ― and death.