Tue, 09 Mar 1999

Labor protest marks Women's Day event

JAKARTA (JP): The celebration of International Women's Day on Monday was marked by a protest by migrant workers demanding better legal protection from abuse by overseas employers, and also an admission by President B.J. Habibie about the country's insecurity and social and political tension.

Led by activists from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Association, about 100 workers from various cities in Java, Southeast Sulawesi and Lampung marched to the office of the State Minister of Women's Roles Tutty Alawiyah to protest her recent suggestion that Indonesia stop sending domestic helpers abroad.

The protesters insisted that despite their low positions and the government's ignorance of their fate, their earnings had significantly contributed to the country's foreign income.

"How many more workers must be treated as slaves, assaulted, and raped before they get serious attention from the government?" they said in an open letter they delivered to the minister.

They failed to meet with Tutty, who was with Habibie at the Bina Graha presidential office at the time. The protesters were received by her aide, Abdullah Cholil.

"Migrant housemaids reduce the unemployment problem and the burden on the state. More than that they also contribute foreign exchange to the state," they said.

Citing government statistics issued in 1998, the labor union said more than one million Indonesian workers -- some 700,000 of them women -- worked in 13 foreign countries.

According to the statistics, 359,155 female workers were registered last year in Saudi Arabia, 200,935 in Malaysia, 82,034 in Singapore and 15,104 in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Habibie opened an international seminar on business, women and the economic crisis at the State Palace. In his speech Habibie acknowledged that the raging violence in parts of Indonesia would seriously worsen the country's economy.

"The most important problem that we have to tackle first is how to create a secure situation as well as a good climate to do business. On these grounds, I repeat my appeal to all components of the national forces to create such a situation together," he said.

The seminar was organized by the Association of Indonesian Business Women (IWAPI) in cooperation with the Canada Asia Network.

Also on Monday, City Police arrested 99 students, including 87 female students from the Joint Women Action group, for staging a demonstration in front of the United Nations representative office on Jl. M.H. Thamrin, Central Jakarta.

"Stop violence against women," they shouted before police came to stop them. More than half of the protesters fled before the arrests took place.

The students refused to talk to journalists. "None of us will talk until our lawyers arrive," said one of the protesters.

The female student then said that they were to be represented by lawyers from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute and the Human Rights Association (PBHI).

Later, at around 6 p.m., City Police also arrested 217 protesters from Jl. Ridwan Rais in Central Jakarta.

Of these 217 people, 118 were high school students, six were street musicians and the others were university students, according to police.

A police source said that most likely the students would not be detained. Police would question them and then release them, he said. (prb/emf)