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Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong queue to transfer money home for their family members. JP/Ricky Yudhistira
A week away from the celebration of Idul Fitri, around 5.5 million migrant workers abroad are rushing to transfer money to their families at home. The remittances from workers are expected to be increased to allow their relatives to celebrate the annual celebration. The Jakarta Post’s Ridwan Max Sijabat reported on the issue from West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), the province that is the second-largest source of migrant labor after East Java.
On the eve of the Idul Fitri Holidays, the West Nusa Tenggara provincial administration will record the transfer, through banks and non-bank financial institutions, of Saudi Arabian real, Malaysian ringgit, Singaporean and Hong Kong dollars from migrant workers into the province to allow the relatives of overseas migrant workers to celebrate the annual festival.
Governor Zainul Majdi said in Mataram that this year, the transfer of foreign currency was expected to increase by 30 percent from previous months because many poor villagers relied on the cash from migrant workers to celebrate the holidays.
“The provincial authorities are also prepared for the arrival of thousands of migrants bringing their wages with them,” he said, adding that the provincial government expected to receive Rp 600 billion (US$63.6 million) in remittances from migrant workers this year.
The provincial government has speeded up the decentralization of migrant labor procedures in its endeavor to end the practice of sending informal workers while at the same time increasing the government remittance. “We could no longer turn a blind eye to the increasing cases of violence against migrant workers in their workplaces,” said Zainal.
Separately, Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar expressed his optimism that the remittances from Indonesia’s 5.5 million migrant workers overseas would rise by 30 percent to Rp 65 trillion this year from Rp 45 trillion in 2011 but said the government was working hard to end, by 2017, the sending of informal workers, such as housemaids and gardeners, who were prone to abuse.
He called on regions to stop sending unskilled and undocumented workers to prevent them from getting into trouble with their foreign employers and said he would tour the regions to ask unqualified workers not to go abroad seeking work.
“The sending of informal workers must end in 2017,” he said.
Head of the provincial manpower and transmigration office Mokhlis Latti said that apart from requiring transparent recruitment procedures of prospective migrant workers by labor suppliers, the province was constructing an international standard training center with a capacity of 1,000 participants in East Lombok, to ensure the training of migrant workers prior to their employment overseas.
He said the project and the provision of a special lounge for migrant workers at the Praya International Airport were expected to provide certified competence for workers and to prevent them from developing trouble in their workplaces overseas.
“We are distressed by the increasing violence against migrants from this province,” he said, adding that the provincial government still owed an explanation to the people regarding the ongoing investigation into the killing of three migrants in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, in March.
Mokhlis admitted poverty and backwardness were the main factors that forced poor families to send their children — most are uneducated — to work in Malaysia and the Middle East.
He said 25 percent of the 4.5 million people in the province were still living in poverty and many people had yet to be aware of education’s important role in getting better jobs and improving their economic livelihoods.
“The province has its rich natural resources and has gold mining company PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara but few locals are recruited by the company because of the low quality of human resources in the province. We have a lot of money to support the compulsory nine-year education program but most parents prefer employing their children on their farms to sending them to school,” he said.
He said the provincial government could not ban residents from working overseas because quite apart from the high unemployment rate and the lack of job opportunities, the 1945 Constitution and the law allowed citizens to work overseas to improve their circumstances.
Mokhlis criticized the way the central government and labor exporters had trained, facilitated and sent workers abroad which he said jeopardized workers’ lives.
“West Nusa Tenggara, the second biggest supplier of migrant labor after East Java, supplies around 30,000 workers monthly to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, but migrant workers from this province have developed the most amount of problems in their workplaces mainly because of poor pre-departure training and document falsification.”
“We want the whole process of recruitment, training and sending overseas to be conducted in the province because we no longer trust the way the central government and labor supplying agencies have processed the migrant workers,” he said.
I Made Suwartana, head of the intelligence unit at the West Lombok police precinct, said the police were concerned by the levels of poverty in the province, saying that as in other regencies, the West Lombok administration had manipulated the poverty figures for political purposes. “Regional heads have manipulated the human development index and lowered the poverty figures to give the impression they have made advances in poverty eradication.”
Fahri Hamzah, a legislator from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) from Sumbawa, called on the government to stop sending untrained and undocumented workers while at the same time to speed up the distribution of low-interest credit to poor people in urban and rural areas in the province.
He said the province had a lot of money and many programs to empower ex-migrant workers and to provide financial aid to turn them into new entrepreneurs who were expected to generate jobs for their fellow villagers so that they would not necessarily have to go abroad to seek work.
Subhan, the son of an influential religious leader in Bima, Sumbawa, criticized the cultural mindset of most people, including clerics who campaigned for pilgrimages and ignored modern education.
“Most Muslims in the province have sold their assets, including farmland, to pay for pilgrimages because they believe that the more people pay homage to Mecca and Madina, the more prestige and respect they will gain. Many Muslims have paid for pilgrimages by selling their assets but, economically, they become poorer. They prefer to pay for pilgrimages rather than sending their children to schools or universities. This misplaced mindset has made many people poorer from one year to the next,” he said.