Thu, 18 Dec 2003

Migrant workers seek more protection

A three-day international conference on Indonesian migrant workers ended on Wednesday with a list of demands, including that the government enact a law on migrant workers to ratify the migrant workers' rights convention, help settle disputes involving migrant workers abroad and support the migrant worker savings program.

"This conference's declaration will include those three demands," the secretary of the Coalition for Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection (Kopbumi), Wahyu Susilo, told The Jakarta Post before the end of the conference.

The conference on Migrant Savings, Alternative Investment (MSAI) for Community Development and Reintegration was jointly organized by the Hong Kong-based Asian Migrant Center (AMC) and the Indonesian Committee for Reintegration (Icore).

Wahyu said the enactment of a law on the protection of migrant workers and the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers was needed so as to provide a proper legal framework for resolving labor problems.

The government was also urged to give serious attention to labor cases involving Indonesian workers abroad, such as frequently occurred in South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle Eastern countries, he said.

"In our declaration, we will refer to a number of cases in those countries. We hope the government will intervene to help settle them," Wahyu said.

He revealed that dozens of Indonesian migrant workers were facing deportation from South Korea, while some fellow migrants in Japan were being subjected to salary cuts.

He said many migrant workers were forced to return home after their employment contracts ended in Hong Kong, while other Indonesian workers were facing document-related problems in Malaysia.

The government was urged to help an Indonesian worker who was facing trial in Singapore and dozens of abused women workers in the Middle Eastern countries, he said.

The conference, which was attended by 133 activists from local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including NGOs from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan, also agreed to campaign for migrant workers' savings for alternative investment (MSAI).

"The government considers migrant workers to be a commodity without thinking about their futures. This savings scheme is also aimed at improving the bargaining position of workers," Wahyu claimed.

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the conference's organizing committee Anti Sulaiman accused the government of doing nothing to improve the lot of migrant workers.

"The Ministry of Manpower often promises to empower migrant workers and their families, but nothing is ever done," Anti was quoted by Antara as saying.

She criticized the government for frequently saying that migrant workers were heroes and heroines, but doing nothing at the same time to stop abuses being perpetrated against them, especially women migrant workers.

To press for the implementation of their demands as set out in the declaration, local and foreign NGO activists will stage a rally in front of the State Palace on Thursday, the day designated by the United Nations as migrant workers solidarity day.

Last month, dozens of women migrant workers were forced to return home from Saudi Arabia. They alleged that they had been abused, raped or left unpaid by their employers.

There are around four million Indonesians working overseas, sending home some US$2.4 billion in remittances annually.JP