Wed, 07 May 2003

Indonesia turns eyes on labor opportunities in postwar Iraq

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Mataram, East Nusa Tenggara

While resuming its labor export to the Middle East, Indonesia continues in its efforts to persuade the United States and Britain to employ as many Indonesian workers as possible in the mining and construction sectors in post-war Iraq, say government officials.

Director General for Labor Training and Productivity Mudjiman at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration said that the government has submitted official requests to the U.S. and British heads of state and has held informal talks with the two countries' ambassadors to Indonesia in regards the role of Indonesian workers in rebuilding Iraq.

"We are awaiting the two countries' official response to our request, so that we can assess the kinds of skills needed in that country," he said at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting of senior manpower officials here on Monday.

He said that the two coalition countries would need tens of thousands of workers in the mining and construction sectors to rebuild the country, and that they had informally agreed to cooperate with Indonesia in the reconstruction project, despite Indonesia's official political stance on the war.

The government strongly deplored the coalition forces' incursion of Iraq, while antiwar groups in Indonesia condemned the war.

Director General for Domestic Labor Placement Kirnadi at the manpower ministry said the government had also allowed 28 manpower placement agencies (PJTKI) to resume labor exports to the Middle East following the end of the Iraq war.

"We are still conducting a (tight) selection process of the hundreds of workers who have already undergone the three-month training program at state-owned training centers and at PJTKI centers," he said, adding that no workers had been recalled during the Iraq war.

Around 500,000 Indonesian nationals are working in the Middle East, with an average 3,000 workers sent to the region per month. The government suspended labor exports to the Middle East during the Iraq war, while it began conducting a more intensive training program for migrant workers at home.

Kirnadi further said that the government would continue with its much-criticized apprenticeship program in Japan and South Korea to help mitigate the unemployment rate at home and improve the workers' skills.

He said the Indonesian government had agreed to supply 3,100 workers this year as apprentices in small-scale companies in Japan, while South Korea had agreed to employ around 10,000 apprentices at small firms.

"Besides the labor export, this apprenticeship program is actually part of Indonesia's overseas employment scheme to help cope with the unemployment problem that has reached alarming levels," he said.

Apprentices are recruited from provinces and are employed by small-scale companies in the manufacturing and public work sectors in Japan with a gross monthly salary of 80,000 yen. Since the program was launched in 1992, the government has sent 15,000 workers to Japan and 70,000 to South Korea.

Many small-scale companies in the two countries that have banned foreign workers have employed Indonesian workers at salaries lower than the minimum wages for local employees. The minimum wage in Japan is 125,000 yen per month.

As a result, the apprenticeship program has sparked harsh criticism from many groups in Japan and South Korea, because it has reduced the number of job opportunities for the workers of those two nations.