Pranoto Iskandar, founder of the Institute for Migrant Rights, said Wednesday that low-skilled migrant workers did not have sufficient knowledge about their rights.
Therefore, he said, many of them were mistreated, resulting in numerous cases of physical abuse and death.
“The government has treated them as moneymakers that provide remittances to their home country,” he said during his presentation on migrant workers at the office of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Jakarta.
He said the government would find it impossible to prevent low-skilled workers from going abroad an, as they provided significant foreign gains, while the government could not provide them with employment opportunities.
Anis Hamidah, executive director of Migrant Care, recently predicted the country received foreign exchange gains of Rp 183 trillion (US$19.17 billion) from migrant workers in 2008, up from Rp 164 trillion last year.
According to the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, there are currently around 4 million Indonesian citizens working abroad.
Data from the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare shows that 2 million migrant workers were employed in Malaysia in 2008, comprising of 1.2 million legal workers and 800,000 illegal workers.
Pranoto said that most unskilled workers were not members of labor unions and therefore did not have access to much-needed legal protection.
“Labor unions provide education for workers regarding their rights, including how to obtain salaries, holidays and leave,” he said.
He added that a formation of labor unions with direct connections to the destination countries of migrant workers should be formed, as most labor unions had not yet established such networks.
He added the country should implement principles derived from the Global Commission on International Migration, which was launched by the UN in 2005.
The principles consist of various points as a result of regional hearings, stakeholder consultations and expert meetings.
“The Philippines and Mexico have started implementing them for their migrant workers,” he said.
Indonesia is a signatory of the 1990 UN Convention on Migrant Workers, but has not yet ratified it.
He argued that Indonesia should not wait for the ratification to implement the principles stated in the commission’s report.
Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar, said recently that he would work toward the ratification of the UN convention within the next five years. It will be up to the House of Representatives to ratify the convention.
Pranoto also demanded the government stop the operational activities of the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labor (BNP2TKI).
During its two years of operation, he added, the agency had never protected migrant workers in their destination countries.
“Migrant workers need protection and education,” he said, adding the agency had not provided sufficient skills-based training for migrant workers.
The agency is currently involved in a battle with the Manpower Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to be granted greater authority.
However, the agency’s chairman, Jumhur Hidayat, said that he had initiated improvements by minimizing extortion practises that have affected many migrant workers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. — The Jakarta Post