Thu, 10 Mar 2005

Settling migrant worker problems

V.K. Chin, The Star, Asia News Network, Selangor, Malaysia

A month should be sufficient for the Indonesian government to put its house in order so that it will be easier for its workers to return to work legally in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government, the employers and those Indonesians waiting on the other side of the Straits of Malacca are frustrated by the delay by Jakarta in the approval process.

This is an unexpected development and is naturally causing concern to all parties involved, except perhaps to the Indonesian officials handling such matters.

The formation of a consortium with the exclusive rights of submitting applications to the Indonesian immigration is certainly not part of the understanding reached at the numerous meetings between the two governments and their leaders.

While Kuala Lumpur has done everything possible to enable the Indonesians to return as legalized workers, Jakarta is obviously dragging its feet over this issue.

The government is therefore at a loss on how to speed things up, but since the bottleneck is at the Indonesian end there is little that Malaysia can do about it except ask Jakarta to clear things up as quickly as possible.

It is quite likely that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is unaware of the situation on the ground, but due to the gravity of the issue it is important that he and his administration put things in order.

The impression is that some greedy Indonesian officials are taking undue advantage of the event to make some money. They know they can hold up things by imposing all sorts of fees for the employers and the workers to pay.

Several things are likely to happen if the matter is not resolved quickly.

First, the affected workers eager to return to work will resort to borrowing money to pay the new fees, which are expected to be RM1,000 or more.

This is a huge amount for the ordinary Indonesians. If they should decide to do this, then it would mean that they would be faced with a heavy debt to settle.

Since waiting or remaining at home is no longer an option, many of them will most probably take the next drastic step of coming back to Malaysia illegally and hoping for the best.

However, many of them may not realize that circumstances have changed and Malaysian employers are now more wary of employing illegal labor due to the heavier penalty they will have to face if caught.

So should the Indonesians and other foreigners come in by the back door, they might find the employment door closed to them. Without the ability to earn a living, they may resort to crime to get the money to survive.

The third and more serious move will be for the government to look to other countries to fill the labor shortage. This is an action that could have some serious repercussions on bilateral relations and will be taken as a last resort.