Tue, 06 May 2003

'RI not competitive in formal sectors'

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara

Indonesia is not ready to compete with workers from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand in the formal labor sector in the region, according to government officials.

They said that Indonesian workers could only compete in the informal sector like working as domestic helpers or in the low- paid sectors such as in construction or plantation sectors.

The director of competence certification and standardization at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Widodo Prayitno, said Indonesian workers were capable of competing in the informal sector because 72 percent of the 80 million workforce in this sector were elementary and high school graduates or dropouts.

"Our workers have been able to compete with foreign workers in other ASEAN countries only in the informal sector," he said on the sidelines of the three-day ASEAN senior labor officials meeting here on Monday.

"Eighty percent of Indonesian workers working in Malaysia and Singapore are employed as domestic helpers, machine operators, golf course caddies or shop attendants. They are given the jobs because local workers won't to do such jobs," he added.

Edison Situmorang, chairman of the Indonesian delegation to the meeting here, shared the same view and said Indonesian professionals could also compete in Singapore and Malaysia, especially because Indonesians would accept lower pay.

"We are seeking to obtain low- and middle-level job opportunities in the countries because our workers are ready to accept lower pay or because their workers won't take the jobs due to the low pay," he said on the sidelines of the meeting.

The meeting was attended by senior labor officials from the 10 ASEAN countries. The meeting precedes the ASEAN two-day labor ministerial meeting that will be opened by President Megawati Soekarnoputri on Thursday.

Edison said all delegations to the senior officials meeting were formulating common competency standards for professionals from ASEAN member countries.

"We are preparing competency standards that could be jointly accepted in ASEAN countries so that countries facing human resources problems could take concrete measures to improve the quality of their human resources," he said.

Setting common standards is a necessary step toward liberalizing labor markets in the ASEAN region.

The ASEAN Free Trade Area has not yet touched the labor sector as the free trade arrangement only covers trade in goods, thus sparing Indonesia from the onslaught of professionals from neighboring countries.

Edison said that currently many workers from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines had been working in the executive level in Indonesia but their number was quite small.

He remarked that entering the free trade era in workers, workers would be free to move from one country to another within the ASEAN region.

Both Edison and Widodo recognized the importance of education to improve the competitiveness of Indonesian workers.

Widodo regretted that during the New Order era, the government did not pay serious attention to education, causing low quality human resources.

In addition, ethnic and religious conflicts in several regions such as Aceh, Poso in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua have contributed to the poor quality of the workforce from those areas, he added.

"The irony is that entering the reform era, we are failing again to pay attention to education," he said.

As a result, professionals graduating from certain recognized institutions could work in the neighboring countries.

Citing an example, Widodo said Singapore and Malaysia accepted only medical doctors who graduated from the University of Indonesia. They consider doctors from other universities as incompetent because the institutions have no adequate medical facilities for their students to get hands-on experience.