Mon, 07 Feb 2000

Stop unskilled labor exports, Minister Khofifah says

SEMARANG, Central Java (JP): State Minister of Women's Empowerment Khofifah Indar Parawansa expressed her determination to halt the export of Indonesian housemaids and non-skilled female workers.

She said past experience has shown that sending ill-prepared workers with few vocational skills only propagates problems for the workers themselves.

"We'd do better to stop housemaid exports and promote more skilled laborers such as nurses, drivers and gardeners to the Middle East," Khofifah told reporters during a Nadhatul Ulama (NU) gathering here on Saturday.

Her comments come after President Abdurrahman Wahid's assertion after meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd last week that the Indonesian government would not stop the export of workers.

Abdurrahman admitted that many female workers faced mistreatment from their employers, but stressed that the economic realities were much more pressing, in particular, high unemployment in Indonesia.

"It's not wise to overemphasize the mistakes of some Arabian employers. Do not hurt the feelings of the Saudi Arabians," Abdurrahman said.

According to government statistics, there are about 1.2 million Indonesian workers abroad. The Middle East is one of the most popular destinations with about 38 percent of the workers in Saudi Arabia.

It is estimated that their contribution to the national economy reaches some US$3.5 million annually.

Most workers who go overseas are classified as non-skilled.

Khofifah said the kind of anguish that female workers have had to endure is inexcusable.

Because of the workers' inexperience and the capricious nature of some labor export companies, many female workers, apart from being victims of abuse, are simply unaware of their rights.

"One of our weaknesses has also been that labor officers in Indonesian embassies or consulate generals abroad are not capable of helping or protecting the rights of these workers," she added.

But Khofifah conceded that a cessation of the program should be done gradually in light of the economic plight facing the country.

She further suggested that labor export companies should be selected for credibility and sense of responsibility.

She argued that companies that imported Indonesians should orient the workers towards the respective countries as conditions and cultures vary.

"In Hong Kong, housemaids are considered as part of the formal sector, so they can get certain protections and are well paid. They are also entitled to holidays. These conditions are not found in Middle Eastern countries," she remarked.(har/04)