Sat, 05 Apr 2003

Indonesia suspends labor exports to SARS-infected countries

Ridwan Max Sijabat and Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Batam

The government has temporarily suspended the supply of Indonesian workers to the Asia Pacific in response to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis in the region.

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea told The Jakarta Post on Friday that the action was part of a series of steps being taken by the government in response to the crisis in China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The legal basis of the decision is Law No. 4/1984 on communicable diseases.

"We have temporarily banned all labor exporters from supplying workers to the Asia-Pacific region. A consequence of this unwanted policy is that we will suffer material losses," he said, adding that the ban applied to all associations that supply workers to the region, particularly Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This new policy will add to the economic losses suffered by Indonesia since the government suspended labor exports to the Middle East because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Indonesia supplies an average of 500,000 workers every month to countries in the Middle East.

Jacob, who has canceled a visit to Hong Kong and China, said he did not have any data on the number of workers who would be affected by the new policy. But he did say that Indonesia supplied about 4,000 workers to Hong Kong every month and between 2,500 workers and 3,000 workers to Singapore every month.

The minister also said the government had ordered its diplomatic missions in the Asia Pacific to intensify their monitoring of Indonesians working in the region

"Indonesian workers employed in Hong Kong and Singapore have been asked to use masks both inside and outside of their places of work," Jacob said.

The minister also said he had asked the heads of all manpower and transmigration offices in the regions to monitor any workers who had recently returned home from overseas.

"We especially delivered a letter about the temporary ban to Djaelani, the chief of the manpower and transmigration office in East Java, because of the government's recent green light to all labor exporters in the province to supply semiskilled workers to Hong Kong and Singapore," he said.

Meanwhile, authorities in Batam are scheduled to screen about 62,000 workers employed in industrial zones on the island, which is near to Singapore.

Jhon Sulistiawan, the general manager of Batamindo, which supplies workers to some 70 foreign companies on the island, told the Post on Friday that preventive measures against SARS were being taken with an eye toward the 1,500 expatriates who travel to and from Singapore weekly.

Singapore, as a regional hub, is thought to be key in the spread of SARS through the Asia Pacific and beyond. The World Health Organization recently announced that travel to Singapore should be avoided.

Jhon said companies on Batam should check workers as they arrive at and leave factories, and isolate anyone suspected of being infected with the disease.

Puardi Djarius, head of the Batam health office, said so far there had been no indications that SARS had spread to the island.

He said his office had intensified its supervision at the Hang Nadim airport and several seaports through which many Singapore arrive on the island.

Meanwhile, the director general for labor placement at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, I Gusti Made Arke, confirmed that Suprihatin, a 22-year-old worker who was being employed in Hong Kong, has been positively infected by the potentially fatal flu-like virus.

"Suprihatin, a resident of Sumber Sewu village, Ponorogo regency, East Java, is gradually recovering after undergoing intensive care at the Queen Elisabeth Hospital in Hong Kong since March 15," he said.

Arka added that Suprihatin was employed as a domestic helper for a Hong Kong family in Mong Kok, Kowloon.