The Jakarta Post
Critics have decried the government’s recent decision to lift a ban on the recruitment and placement of Indonesian migrant workers, which was suspended in March when the country was dealing with the early emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wahyu Susilo from labor rights group Migrant Care said the decision could lead to haphazard recruitment and placement processes and encourage illicit activities by illegal migrant worker placement companies (P3MIs).
“This could lead to a haphazard recruitment process in Indonesia's migrant-sending regions," he said.
He said that sending migrant workers abroad was a risky move at a time when COVID-19 in Indonesia showed no signs of abating and while other countries were confronting a second wave of outbreaks.
Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah signed on July 29 a ministerial decree that essentially revoked an earlier decree that had put restrictions in place on March 18.
The new decree stipulates that the government gradually allows worker placement to selected countries that have declared that they are open for migrant workers. The recruitment and placement processes are subject to health protocols, the cost of which may not be passed on from the P3MIs to applicants.
Prospective migrant workers who already have visas in hand, are already registered with the Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers’ (BP2MI) protection system and whose application processes are handled by registered P3MIs will get priority in being sent abroad, the decree states.
Ida said in a press conference on July 30 that the new decree aimed at supporting the recovery of the domestic economy during the transition to the so-called COVID-19 new normal.
“We see it as necessary for Indonesian migrant worker candidates to return to work in their destination countries while we are maintaining the principles of protection of workers' rights and health protocols,” said Ida.
When asked about the controversial timing of the decision, the Manpower Ministry’s acting director general for training and placement Aris Wahyudi said the government was trying to carefully balance the economic concerns of workers who sought employment abroad and public health.
“If we revoke [the ban] too soon, it will be perceived as if we are abandoning health [aspects],” Aris told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. “On the other hand, we don’t want to see a steep decline [in the economy]. With the WHO [World Health Organization] saying this pandemic will continue for a long time, should we refrain from engaging in economic activities [for a lengthy period]?”
Aris said his office took into account the demands to lift the ban from both prospective migrant workers and the P3MIs, while acknowledging that there was also demand for Indonesian migrant workers from foreign countries.
Aris maintained that health protocols would be strictly enforced during the recruitment and placement processes, partly to avoid Indonesia being perceived by other countries as a “virus exporter”.
The ministry initially said that it would allow Indonesian migrant workers to be sent to 14 territories, namely Kuwait, Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Maldives, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This was based on consultations with Indonesian diplomats abroad, according to Ida.
However, it has now removed Kuwait from the preliminary list after Kuwait issued on Aug. 1 an entry ban for 31 countries, including Indonesia.
Ida said that the number of countries listed as placement destinations could change at a moment’s notice.
“The list can either be expanded or reduced depending on conditions at home and abroad. The government has to make sure that the placement process is safe and guarantees the protection of our migrant workers,” Ida told the Post on Tuesday.
She went on to say that the placement process would officially start after her office finalized the list of the first batch of destination countries or territories.
The ministry is now working together with the BP2MI to establish a joint team to monitor daily developments relating to the pandemic and migrant labor, given the dynamics of the health crisis.
According to BP2MI data, 88,973 worker candidates’ applications were suspended when the government imposed the restriction in March.
Aris said the government would first select the migrant workers from this pool of candidates, prioritizing applicants who met the requirements in the new decree before moving to other prospective workers.
“Not all those whose [application processes] were halted can immediately go abroad. There will be reselection,” said Aris. “If the conditions do not allow them to go, then they will not go.”
BP2MI head Benny Rhamdani earlier said that his agency was ready to join hands with the ministry in ensuring that the resumption of recruitment and placement was accompanied by strict health protocols. He said the move was made to ensure access to employment.
According to BP2MI data, 3.74 million Indonesian migrant workers abroad sent home a total of Rp 160 trillion (US$10.9 billion) in remittances in 2019.