Saturday, 15 October 2011 22:46

Law on migrant workers under scrutiny, experts say not enough

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The government should revise the 2004 Migrant Worker Law to better protect Indonesians working overseas amid rising concerns for their safety, experts say.

Aswatini Raharto, a researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said that of the 16 chapters and 109 articles in the 2004 Overseas Placement and Protection for Indonesian Workers Law, only one chapter was related to protecting migrant workers. Most of the law was about the procedural aspects of placing workers, she added.

“Government regulations are not enough to protect migrant workers,” she told reporters on the sidelines 
of the “Migrant Workers in Asia: Policies and Practices in Social Sciences” seminar in Jakarta on Thursday.

Prasetyohadi, a researcher from the Institute for Ecosoc Rights, concurred with Aswatini, saying that the existing law focused more on the business aspects of sending workers abroad, especially regarding the roles of the government and labor placement agencies.

Stories of migrant workers being abused or killed by their employers or facing legal problems while abroad have been common in recent years.

The government has taken steps to address the issue, but violence against migrant workers continues to make headlines. The nation was recently shocked by the beheading of Ruyati, a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia who was accused of killing a Saudi Arabian woman with a machete.

The law did not specify which party should protect migrant workers, Prasetyohadi said. Article 5 of the law stipulates that the government is responsible for protecting the workers, but Article 82 puts the responsibility on the agencies who sent them abroad.

A lack of knowledge about the problems migrant workers faced made it harder for the government to provide better protection, he said. It is estimated that of 450,000 workers sent abroad annually, 25,000 faced various physical or labor rights abuses.

Prasetyo hadi added that prolonged abuse of Indonesian migrant workers was due to their lack of knowledge of their legal rights. The government did not provide them with the necessary knowledge or skills relevant to their jobs and their placement nations, he said.

Hubert Gijzen, director and representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said the government needed to give honest, straightforward information so the workers could go abroad prepared and with realistic expectations.

“Many migrant workers step on the plane with wrong expectations. They expect that they are going to face a wonderful world with easy work and life,” said Gijzen. He said that the government needed to assist migrant workers because the burden was too heavy for them.

“Especially if they get into legal problems in a foreign country and they don’t know the legal system, they definitely need help. And yet most of the migrant workers feel very much alone,” Gijzen said.

Hikmahanto Juwana, a law expert from the University of Indonesia, said the government never treated the migrant workers as human beings. “The government only sees them as names,” he said at the two-day seminar. Hikmahanto added that the government never considered migrant workers to be people with families and hopes. (drs)

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