Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Minister annoyed by worker extortion

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The extortion of Indonesian migrant workers when they returned home continued despite measures to curb the practice, the minister responsible for their welfare told a House of Representatives commission on Wednesday.

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea expressed his frustration to the Commission VI on labor and social affairs, saying his efforts to stamp out the problem had proved ineffectual.

"I understand the migrant workers' severe suffering -- suffering to find money to work overseas and suffering during their employment abroad -- but I don't know how to do more," he said.

Commission members grilled the minister over the widespread extortion of workers returning home through Terminal III of the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng, Tangerang.

They suggested the government close down the special terminal and let workers return through ordinary passenger routes to minimize the extortion.

Nuwa Wea said the local manpower and transmigration office and many other officials were involved in handling workers at the airport.

"Upon their arrival at the airport, workers without their consent are faced with illegal brokers who, with falsified docu ments, are there to fetch the workers. They then enter the immi gration and excise checkpoints where they are often charged with illegal levies...."

Migrant workers faced a series of extortion scams at the special terminal and during trips to their home villages in Java and West Nusa Tenggara, he said.

Some returning workers did not bring money because they were repatriated after problems or illness during their employment overseas.

Nuwa Wea said he was not to blame for the extortion because officials from many other departments were involved.

"I won't give up and, therefore, I have taken action against my subordinates and labor exporters found extorting workers.

"However, I cannot take similar actions against authorized officers from the immigration office, police and PT Angkasa Pura and the illegal brokers roaming the airport," he said.

Nuwa Wea rejected the commission's call to repatriate workers through terminals used by ordinary passengers. This would only increase the corruption, he said without elaborating.

He said his office in cooperation with security authorities was preparing a special lounge in Ciracas, East Jakarta, to replace the special terminal.

"Upon their arrival at the airport, migrant workers will be directly transported to Ciracas where they will be allowed to stay for several days before they continue their trip home in special cars," he said.

He assured the commission he has gained nothing from labor exports and his family was not involved in the business.

"My soul would not enter heaven if I received money from labor exports," he said.

But a labor exporter who asked for anonymity said a son of Nuwa Wea's was running a medical check-up counter at the special terminal. The counter charged Rp 50,000 (US$6) for every returning worker, he said.