Tue, 06 Aug 2002

Returnees still want to work abroad illegally

Moch. N. Kurniawan and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Medan

Despite the tougher policy against illegal migrant workers in Malaysia, the country remains a mecca for cash-strapped Indonesians who wish to change their lives.

Still fresh from a bitter exodus home, some Indonesian illegal workers vowed on Monday to try again to enter Malaysia or some other destination illegally.

Andi, 27, from Sukorejo Wetan, Rejotangan, Tulungagung, East Java, said on Monday he would avoid complying with the proper procedures that in the past required him to fill out many application forms, pay a lot of fees to legal overseas labor suppliers and have his monthly salary cut.

"It's useless to register with an authorized labor export supplier. We would prefer to become illegal workers as we've known how to get there since the 1980s, even though we must take many risks," he told The Jakarta Post.

"Many people here don't trust the labor export companies." Andi was unemployed when he decided to travel to work in Malaysia 10 years ago illegally.

According to him, someone who works legally in Malaysia must spend at least Rp 4 million (US$444) to pay off the legal supplier and later, his or her salary must be cut monthly.

"But as illegal workers, we only pay Rp 2.5 million to a tekong (illegal supplier) and receive a full wage every month," he said.

Andi, who is still unmarried, illegally worked for years as a construction worker in Kuala Lumpur and was paid Rp 7 million a month as he had already worked there more than five years.

Previously, he received a salary of about Rp 3.5 million per month.

Laughing, he said that with this sort of money, he could save about Rp 2.5 million a month or some Rp 30 million a year.

"I want to build my own house and get married here (Tulungagung)," he said.

Andi added he would be unable to accomplish his dream if he stayed at home and became a farmer with about one hectare of paddy fields.

"As a farmer who owns a small field, what can you expect? It's only enough to subsist on," he said.

He realized that in Malaysia he was vulnerable and enjoyed no legal protection, but he found his employer never withheld his salary and he had never been caught by the police.

"I heard my employer has backing from Malaysian government officials," he said.

Another former illegal worker, Indro, 24, from Tulungagung, shared the same view with Andi.

"Malaysia has been a haven for illegal workers over the past few years. It's close to us, the salary is high and we have no job at home, so it's stupid if we don't go there," Indro, who has worked in Malaysia since 1998, told the Post.

He claimed that many of his friends could build mansions after returning from Malaysia.

Andi and Indro are among the 480,000 illegal Indonesian workers who have returned home due to the implementation of Malaysia's new Immigration Act on Aug. 1., which threatens illegal workers with canning, fines and jail sentences.

The two arrived home about three weeks ago.

Sopar, 38, and his wife Suwanti, 31, said upon their arrival that they had worked illegally in Malaysia since 1998 to raise money for their children's schooling.

"We only applied for tourist visas to go there. With the help of our friends there, we were able to find jobs with high salaries," Sopar said, adding he was paid Rp 115,000 per day in Malaysia.

Although he has returned home, if he has a chance he would sneak back into Malaysia as he wanted to earn more money for his children.

Separately, Andi and Indro said they would temporarily stay at home, but later on they planned to work illegally overseas again.

"I'd prefer to go to South Korea as many friends of mine work there illegally and the salaries are higher than those in Malaysia," Indro said.

"I may go to Taiwan, Korea or Hongkong," Andi said.

Both have been informed by their friends that these countries are not as strict as Malaysia.

Syaufii Syamsuddin, an expert with the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration admitted that many chose to work overseas illegally mainly due to the many fees imposed by legal labor suppliers.

However, he said suppliers imposed such fees because many overseas employers were reluctant to cover the costs associated with employing foreign workers.

"The suppliers don't want to suffer losses. So they charge overseas workers fees that are supposed to be paid by their employers," he said.

He said the government had faced difficulties in controlling the practice as it was dictated by the market.

Syaufii also admitted that the government had yet to decide on concrete action to resolve the problems of illegal workers.