Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Deadline set for MOU with Malaysia

Kurniawan Hari and Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government has set March 2004 as the deadline for signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Malaysia on labor in the formal sector; otherwise, Indonesia would suspend its labor supply to the neighboring country.

The MOU won full support from the House of Representatives Commission VII on labor and social affairs at a hearing on Wednesday.

Labor exporters have voiced their opposition to the draft agreement, which they said did not provide necessary protection for Indonesian workers employed in Malaysia.

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea said the government would halt its labor supply for the time being, since Malaysia seemed less serious about signing the long-awaited bilateral agreement.

Nuwa Wea said the government was confused by the Malaysian government's apparent move to buy time, since the final draft had already been accepted by a joint team and disseminated to relevant authorities.

Separately, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda assented on Wednesday that the draft agreement did not include necessary provisions on workers' rights and legal protection during their employment abroad.

"The MOU also does not regulate training programs before workers are sent to their employers," he said at a hearing with House Commission I on defense and foreign affairs.

Despite the flaws, the draft ensures that employers are fully responsible for returning workers to Indonesia if the employers breach the contract of work.

Hassan said the MOU would be signed after Malaysia's human resources ministry settled administrative procedures on its end.

The Association of Labor Export Companies (Apjati) opposed the draft, which did not cover industrial relations and labor protection.

Apjati deputy chairman Anthon Sihombing said the MOU would be effective in preventing Indonesian workers from migrating and working illegally in Malaysia, but it did not provide legal protection for workers.

"All Indonesian workers recruited under the new agreement will be provided basic wages during their five-year contract, although many workers meet the high level of skill and work experience of that country," he said.

He said Malaysia, like Hong Kong, should set the minimum wage and give assurances that industrial relations policies will be effective in providing legal certainty for Indonesian workers.

"Many Indonesian workers are happy to work in Hong Kong, because they are employed under industrial relations policies that also cover local workers," he said, adding that the government should also include insurance schemes in labor contracts with Malaysian employers.

Anthon said that if Malaysia was committed to providing fair and humane labor terms and conditions, it should treat Indonesian workers the same as Malaysian workers.

In regards legal and immigration issues, Nuwa Wea commented: "First of all, Indonesia cannot interfere in Malaysia's internal affairs and therefore, our workers must comply with Malaysian law during their employment. Secondly, the MOU is aimed at preventing workers from illegally entering Malaysia, and Malaysian employers from recruiting directly from Indonesia."