Mon, 09 Oct 2000

Govt urged to allocate more funds for education

CISARUA, West Java (JP): Indonesia's work force is less competitive than its overseas counterparts, mainly because of the government's lack of interest in improving the quality of national education, an economist said.

Tirta Hidayat, a lecturer at the postgraduate program at the University of Indonesia, said the government should allocate at least 2 percent, instead of the current 0.1 percent, of the gross domestic product to the education sector in order to raise the standards of the country's human resources to a new height.

"The government must reform the national education system, provide people with more access to education and improve the quality of teachers and these cost a lot," Tirta said in a labor workshop here recently.

Compared to other Asian countries, Indonesia has allocated the lowest budget to the education sector over the past three decades, he added.

Reports said developed countries put a staggering 25 percent of their respective GDP at stake for education, health and social security.

"In the 1960s, many students from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand streamed into Indonesia, but now the situation has turned upside down with many Indonesians studying in those countries," he said.

Tirta, the newly appointed chief of the Center for Research and Planning at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, said around 21 percent of the country's labor force were uneducated, 22 percent were elementary school dropouts, 38 percent were elementary school graduates, 17 percent were junior and senior high school graduates and only less than 2 percent were university graduates.

Most of the work force were absorbed in the informal sector and only a small part were employed in formal sectors such as industry and bureaucracy.

"The poor quality of human resources and the prolonged economic crisis have taken unemployment to an alarming level and severely weakened the bargaining power of our workers both at home and overseas," he said.

He said that of the current 99 million who are in the age bracket for employment, 6.4 million were jobless and 31.3 million were working less than 35 hours a week.

These conditions make it impossible for Indonesian workers to compete with counterparts from other developing countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, China and the Philippines and more foreign experts would continue to flow in if the quality of human resources remained unimproved.

"It is an irony that Indonesia earns around US$3 billion in remittance from around 1.2 million workers employed overseas annually while at the same time it pays more than $10 billion to around 60,000 expatriates working in the country," he said.

He said that education reform was urgent in the face of the free trade era -- AFTA in 2003, APEC in 2010 and GATT.

"Of course, it has been late but late is better than never," he added.

Labor export

In another session of the workshop, Tjeppy F. Aloewie, the director general for labor placement at the ministry, conceded that the main obstacle to labor export was a lack of qualifications among the workers.

"We are facing not only the lack of social and legal protection for workers, but the fact that they also don't have the expertise or communication skills nor personal adjustment skills," he said.

He suggested that the government intensify vocational training programs for workers before they are sent abroad.

He added that labor exporters should be encouraged to support the training program and provide legal protection for workers, especially problematic ones, during their employment overseas.

Meanwhile, Syaufii Syamsuddin, director general for industrial relations and labor standards, said the government would maintain the minimum wage policy because of workers' weak bargaining power and the low quality of human resources.

"Of course, it will better for us if the wage system is entrusted to the market but it is impossible now because of the low quality of our workers," he said, adding that most workers would be underpaid if the remuneration system was determined by the market.

He said that in line with the implementation of regional autonomy planned for January 2001, monthly minimum wages would be set by governors along with local labor unions and chapters of the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo).

"The government will issue a regulation on this matter in the near future because governors are expected to have announced the monthly minimum wages next month at the latest and the central government will no longer intervene in matters of minimum wages," he said, citing the labor law which stipulates that minimum wages must be announced two months before they take effect. (rms)