Thu, 27 May 2004

RI to push Malaysia on worker protection

Dewi Santoso and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, Jakarta

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea left on Wednesday for Malaysia to push for the signing of a bilateral agreement on protection of Indonesians working in the informal sector in that country.

Indonesia and Malaysia signed earlier this month a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Indonesian migrant workers employed in the formal sector. The MOU, which will come into effect on Aug. 10 this year, sets out the requirements with respect to recruitment, salary and terms of contracts for Indonesian migrant workers wishing to work in the neighboring country.

Nuwa Wea said he would meet Malaysian Minister of Human Resources Fong Chan Oan on Thursday to discuss the matter.

During his visit, the minister will also meet Nirmala Bonat, an Indonesian domestic helper who was violently beaten, burned and scalded with boiling water by her Malaysian employer. The employer is now standing trial for the abuse, which could send her to prison for up to 80 years.

Nirmala, a native of East Nusa Tenggara, went to Malaysia last September.

Nirmala's harrowing tale of abuse came as a shock to Malaysians, including Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who condemned the abuse.

The abuse has also drawn the attention of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, who invited Nirmala's mother, Martha Toni, to her private residence in Kebagusan, South Jakarta, on Wednesday.

Later in the day Martha flew to Malaysia to join her daughter.

Nuwa Wea said that he would also visit Nirmala to "give her the support that she desperately needs".

As for compensation for Nirmala, Nuwa Wea said that he would discuss the matter with Fong.

Nirmala is not the first Indonesian to suffer from abusive treatment. Many reports of abuse against Indonesian migrant workers employed as domestic helpers, including rape, have surfaced.

The numerous cases of abuse have prompted widespread demands for legislation to protect migrant workers, particularly those in the informal sector.

Nuwa Wea said that his ministry was currently drafting a bill on migrant worker protection.

"Hopefully, drafting will be completed soon," he said.

Since his term in office, the country has endorsed laws No. 21/2000 on labor unions, No. 13/2003 on manpower and No. 2/2004 on settlement of industrial disputes. The latter will come into effect on Jan. 15, 2005.

While receiving Martha, the President called on the public not to rush to blame the government for any abuse involving Indonesian migrant workers, saying the government had done a lot to prevent them from being maltreated.

Megawati said she learned from Martha that her 19-year-old daughter sought work in Malaysia without her mother's knowledge.

"According to the law, persons who are still in their parents' care need their consent to work overseas," Megawati said.