Wed, 15 Jan 2003

RI asked to open its labor market

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesian managers, and professionals such as doctors and lawyers could find themselves competing with their foreign peers for jobs here in the near future if the government surrenders to pressure to open the country's labor market.

Arsa Suthisna, head of research and development at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, said at a seminar on Tuesday that the liberalization of the domestic labor market was part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement in Doha, Qatar in 2001.

He said that there were some 16 nations including the U.S., Japan, Panama, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore, Norway, Hong Kong, Korea, Canada, Poland, India, China and countries in the European Union who wanted to export their professional workers and managers to Indonesia. This also means that Indonesian professionals and managers would also be allowed to seek jobs in those countries.

These countries are now demanding that the government revoke the Economic Need Test (ENT) ruling, a policy that enables a country to limit or to shut doors to foreign workers.

But with many of Indonesia's managers and professional workers lacking in quality and skill compared to foreigners, liberalizing the labor sector could create a much greater unemployment problem in the country.

With this in mind, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration, Jacob Nuwa Wea said that Indonesia was not yet ready to fully liberalize its labor sector.

He said that a special task force had been sent to Geneva to renegotiate the WTO scheme.

Under the initial plan, the liberalization of the labor market is scheduled to begin this March, but the WTO scheme allows Indonesia to delay in until 2005 if the above 16 nations agree to it.

Indonesia would be branded as an uncooperative nation if it declines to apply the WTO agreement. This has serious economic consequences.

"We have asked for a postponement, as we are not ready yet to liberalize our labor sector. We still need time to enhance the quality of our workers," said Jacob in the seminar.

He said that most of the country's professionals had no international certificates yet.

He feared that opening the doors for foreign professionals would worsen the country's unemployment problem.

Based on the current data from the ministry, 59 percent of the country's labor force has only an elementary school education, and only 5 percent graduated from high school or universities.

The recent unemployment figure from National Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that the country's full unemployment reached 8.1 million, while half unemployment is some 36 million.

The country has a total labor force of 97.6 million from the total population of 210 million.

Coordinator of the Indonesian lobby team for labor liberalization at the WTO forum, Adolf Warrouw, said that the 16 countries had proposed managerial level jobs in several sectors such as energy, mining, financial, tourism and telecommunications, and several in professional sectors such as medical, law, accounting and engineering.

Adolf further said that thus far, the government was considering whether to agree on opening the labor market in the shipping and construction sectors since many Indonesian workers in these areas have already gained international certificates.