Mon, 17 Sep 2001

Govt told to ratify convention on migrant workers

JAKARTA (JP): Labor unions have called on the government to ratify the international convention on the protection and rights of all migrant workers and their families to help safeguard Indonesian migrants working overseas.

Wahyu Susilo, the chairman of the Consortium for the Advocacy of Indonesian Migrant Workers (Kopbumi), said Indonesia urgently needed to ratify the UN convention due to modern-day slavery that is prevalent among Indonesian workers overseas.

"The UN convention could be used as a legal foundation by the government to consider a law on the protection of Indonesian migrant workers and their families overseas," he said, responding to the World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which ended on Sept. 7.

Wahyu, who was also in the Indonesian delegation to the conference, said issues on migrant workers gained serious attention at the week-long meeting on the grounds that discrimination and torture against migrant workers from Asia and Africa were rampant.

"Besides the convention on migrant workers, the conference also recommended that Asian and African countries ratify the convention against transnational-organized crime and protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking of people, especially women," he told The Jakarta Post.

The convention on migrant workers stipulates that both labor export countries and labor import countries should make a bilateral agreement to provide maximum protection. It also guarantees migrant workers' rights for freedom of union, information and safety in the workplace.

Wahyu lambasted the government's double standards on migrant workers and labor exporters who mostly treat workers as trade commodities, which he said partly led to the prevalent torture of Indonesian workers overseas.

"So far, the government has yet to enact any law that treats migrant workers as human assets instead of a trade commodity. The government has not taken any action against labor exporters found guilty of trading children and women to international syndicates," he said.

The consortium's data shows that the number of Indonesian migrant workers who died or were killed in Malaysia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia reached 29 between January and August of this year, with 82 others tortured and over 4,500 running away from employers in Taiwan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Ariest Merdeka Sirait, the coordinator for the Legal Advocacy and Information System for Workers (Sisbikum), concurred, saying that Indonesia was classified as one of the major Asian countries supplying workers overseas.

"Some two million Indonesian workers, mostly women, are working overseas despite the absence of bilateral agreements with countries employing Indonesian workers," he said.

Ariest called on the government to take a lesson from the Philippines on how the neighboring country treats its migrant workers by providing protection to those encountering trouble overseas.

"We have long treated our workers as the subject of extortion, from when they leave their home village until they return home again," he said.

A. Munir, the chairman of the Legal Aid Foundation for Migrant Workers (LPBH TKI), said the inhumane treatment of migrant workers at home and overseas had something to do with the absence of laws guaranteeing workers' rights and protection from the government and labor exporters.

"We have frequently reported labor exporters violating regulations on supplying workers overseas but no actions were taken against them," Munir said.

He said the government must take tough measures against labor exporters who poorly treat migrant workers and fail to provide them with protection.

"Besides, the government should improve labor cooperation with countries employing a large number of Indonesian workers," Munir said.

He said the majority of Indonesian workers were employed in Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Qatar, Oman, Taiwan and Hong Kong. (rms)