The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration is having to defend its decision to simplify the licensing process for foreign-worker recruitment, with Jokowi’s predecessor warning of an “invasion” of foreign workers.
Following its issuance in late March, Presidential Regulation No. 20/2018 on the utilization of foreign workers immediately drew strong reactions, particularly from labor unions and Jokowi’s political opponents who have since used the issue to attack the government.
Those who have denounced the regulation include the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union (KSPI), lawmakers at the House of Representatives and even former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri insisted that the regulation did not remove any existing requirements for foreign workers to work in the country but merely simplified procedures.
“This presidential regulation does not remove any qualitative requirements from the [permit application] process,” Hanif said. “It only simplifies the procedural and bureaucratic steps of the requirements.”
Citing an example, the minister said the presidential regulation cut the licensing process for foreign workers to six days from the previous 20 days with some of the steps now being able to be done online.
Moreover, the validity of the Expatriate Placement Plan (RPTKA) obtained by the applicants will be more flexible, for as long as the work contract applied for instead of being valid for only one year as at present.
Hanif also gave an assurance that in addition to requiring foreign workers to pay extra fees, the regulation also limited foreign workers to managerial or higher positions, meaning that they would not take on blue-collar jobs, for which there is already an oversupply of low-skilled workers.
However, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has questioned the rationale behind the issuance of the regulation. In his speech before hundreds of Cilegon residents in West Java, one of the country’s biggest industrial cities, over the weekend, Yudhoyono said the “invasion” of foreign workers could lead to social unrest.
The regulation has triggered particular controversy in the run up to Labor Day on May 1. The KSPI says it plans to deploy 1 million workers in the annual May Day demonstrations, during which KSPI head Saiq Iqbal said they would demand the President revoke the regulation.
Politician Yusril Ihza Mahendra of the Crescent Star Party (PBB) has said he will assist the KSPI in taking the regulation to the Supreme Court for a judicial review. “I will act as the lawyer for the KSPI in filing for a review of the controversial regulation,” Yusril said in a statement.
Outspoken lawmaker Fahri Hamzah, meanwhile, has called for the formation of a special House committee to launch an inquiry into the regulation. He claimed many Indonesians were disappointed that the government had chosen to bring in foreign workers rather than employing them.
Meanwhile, Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) head Thomas “Tom” Lembong said on Monday an inflow of foreign workers was inevitable as Indonesia was still highly dependent on foreign direct investment.
“The investors are willing to take a chance on billions and even trillions of their money being invested [in Indonesia], so they will certainly send their people to safeguard the use of those funds,” Tom said.
He claimed that the permit applications had long been an obstacle for foreign employers who wanted to bring in their own talent, thus discouraging them from maximizing their investments in the country.
Furthermore, foreign workers make up only a tiny proportion of the overall Indonesian workforce. Data from the BKPM shows, as of 2017, there were only 126,000 foreigners among the total of 121 million workers in the country.
Separately, Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) chairman Hariyadi B. Sukamdani welcomed the new presidential regulation on foreign workers, saying it gave a clear timeframe for permit issuance for workers and their employers.
“The regulation benefits employers that need foreign workers, because when the process [of permit issuance] has passed the deadline, the permit is assumed to be approved,” said Hariyadi.
He denied claims the regulation would lead to foreign workers stealing local workers’ jobs, as he believed the trend for foreign workers had declined in recent years. “Employing foreign workers means greater costs, as you have to prepare accommodation, flight tickets and if he or she has family, you also have to pay for them,” he said. “I believe that now a company only can afford to employ [foreigners] for three years.”
Hariyadi gave the example of Chinese workers, who have been subject to many complaints, but who will leave as soon as their projects are finished. “It’s logical that a contractor wants its trusted employees to run the projects,” he said.