Fri, 09 May 2003

RI, RP urge liberalization of labor market in ASEAN

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

President Megawati Soekarnoputri called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop harmonious and integrated policies in all fields to allow member countries to recover from problems arising from terrorism threats and the SARS epidemic.

"In view of our collective experience, especially those related to vulnerability generally inherent in a more open society, it's timely for us to consider a more integrated and harmonious regional strategy and policy with respect to our own particularities," Megawati said while opening the ASEAN Labor Ministerial Meeting (ALMM) in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) on Thursday.

The President acknowledged that Indonesia was one of the ASEAN countries hit hardest by the economic crisis that has severely cut investment and reduced job opportunities.

"The unemployment rate has reached 8.1 percent... and this is disheartening because the figure is higher than our economic growth and our capacity to attract foreign investment," she said.

The latest data issued by the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry showed that Indonesia's open unemployment had reached 40 million people.

Megawati said unemployment had caused not only economic problems but also had an adverse impact on social, security and political fields, "... and the political instability at the national level could eventually cause tension throughout the region."

She insisted that all individual countries in the region have the authority to determine the quality of legal protection and the level of social welfare they should provide for their workers.

"The most plausible thing we can do at present is that we can create equal opportunities to all countries to pursue the quality of protection and of the social welfare they require, in order to advocate on behalf of their own work force," said the President.

Meanwhile, Indonesia and the Philippines have called on ASEAN members to show political commitment in liberalizing the labor market in the region.

"Despite the low quality of Indonesia's human resources, Indonesia must be ready to compete in the spirit of ASEAN," Manpower and Transmigration Minister Jacob Nuwa Wea said.

"But we have to first identify sectors and jobs in the labor market that can be declared open to foreign workers," he said.

Nuwa Wea said Indonesia had opened up some jobs in the formal sector to professionals from the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.

"While preparing professionals in the formal sectors, Indonesia has entered the construction and plantation sectors in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam," the minister said.

Nuwa Wea also criticized Singapore for not opening its labor market in the formal sector for Indonesian professionals, saying Indonesia had done so for Singaporean executives.

"I'm also confused by Singapore's labor policy which does not give opportunities to Indonesian workers to work in the formal sector there." he said.

Philippine Labor Minister Patria A. Sto. Thomas concurred with Nuwa Wea, saying that ASEAN countries should liberalize the labor market.

"Under ASEAN spirit, Filipinos working in any country in the region will no longer call themselves as Filipino workers, but ASEAN workers," she said.

She agreed that ASEAN should start listing certain jobs that would be open to foreign workers, complete with the job requirements.

Patricia said she needed between five and seven years to make it totally open for workers from other ASEAN member countries because despite its diverse overseas employment, the Philippines was still facing problems with domestic employment.

She said all delegations to the ALMM were still discussing the mutual recognition of labor competence and common standards in certain jobs to be liberalized and were seeking a common program on labor training, social security and labor protection.