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  May 10, 2000 atimes.com  

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Southeast Asia

Amid unemployment, Jakarta turns to labor exports
By Richel Dursin

JAKARTA - There are already some 2 million Indonesian contract workers overseas, but the government plans to export even more labor as this country's unemployment rate rises.

The latest data from the Manpower Ministry show that at least 36 million Indonesians are now unemployed due to the prolonged economic crisis, which caused many companies, particularly banks and construction firms, to go bankrupt and close down.

Manpower Minister Bomer Pasaribu warns that Indonesia's high rate of unemployment, which now accounts for about 17 percent of the total population of 210 million, will remain the country's major problem until 2010. He stresses: ''We will not be able to overcome the unemployment problem in the next five or 10 years.''

''We should open an international market for Indonesian workers,'' he adds. In fact, the Manpower Ministry aims to send 2.8 million Indonesian workers during the five-year term of President Abdurrahman Wahid to Middle East and Asia-Pacific countries, including Brunei, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. From November 1999 up to February this year, the government sent 378,138 workers overseas, mostly to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.

Officials say the government can afford to create only 1.2 million jobs with this year's economic growth estimated at 3 percent. ''One percent of our economic growth means we can create 400,000 job opportunities,'' says Samidi Adi Martono, director of labor standards and supervision of the manpower ministry. ''If our economic growth stopped, no job opportunities can be created.''

But some labor experts say the export of workers is not a real solution to the unemployment problem, and can be considered only as a palliative at best. ''When they return home after their contracts lapse, there would be more unemployed Indonesians,'' says Rekson Silaban, director of the international department of the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, or SBSI. ''Instead of exporting Indonesian workers to foreign countries, the government should maximize its domestic human resources by developing the regions.''

Dita Indah Sari, chair of the National Front for Indonesian Labor Struggle, says that the government is doing little in alleviating the economic crisis that caused the rise in unemployment in the first place. ''The living condition in Indonesia is getting harder as there are no significant economic reforms under the administration of President Wahid,'' says Dita. ''And yet the Wahid administration wants to increase the prices of fuel and electricity and cut the subsidies for state-owned universities.''

Government officials, however, argue that increasing Indonesia's labor exports can only help the country's bottom line. As it is, they say, the Indonesians who are now working abroad on contractual basis have giving the country some $1.05 billion in foreign exchange earnings annually. Says Martono: ''If Indonesia succeeds in sending 2.8 million additional workers, the country stands to earn at least $13 billion annually.''

He also says that those who return home for good are unlikely to become jobless since they are trained to become self-employed. Martono notes, ''Since they have capital, we train them to set up their own businesses.'' And as proof that government's move to send Indonesian workers abroad is nothing but economically sound, the manpower ministry points out many districts in East Java that have developed rapidly because a significant number of their residents have jobs overseas.

Still, not all Indonesians working abroad have met good fortune. The manpower ministry says at least nine Indonesian workers are currently facing death sentences overseas for alleged murder. In Saudi Arabia, Siti Zaenab binti Duhri Rupa from Bangkalan, East Java is facing a death sentence on charges of killing her employer's wife. The trial of an Indonesian couple from West Nusa Tenggara charged with killing their employer is also in progress there. In the United Arab Emirates, the court has sentenced Sriningsih from Brebes, Central Java, to be stoned to death for killing her Sri Lankan fellow worker. In Singapore, Ikaesih binti Dul Holid from Cirebon, West Java has been charged with murder for purportedly throwing her employer's baby from the third floor of an apartment. Four more workers who illegally emigrated to Malaysia are also facing death sentences for murder.

Labor export companies, not the government, are responsible for any kind of case faced by aggrieved Indonesian workers abroad, according to a legal procedure being implemented by the Manpower Ministry. ''But,'' says Martono, ''we provide lawyers to defend our workers abroad in case they are in trouble.'' The ministry, though, says that it will review the legal procedures involved in labor export. This is even as Pasaribu admits that it is difficult and complicated to provide legal protection for troubled workers especially in the Middle East countries because Indonesians employed as domestic workers are not protected by the labor laws there.

About 70 percent of Indonesian overseas contract workers are domestic workers.

In the meantime, the ministry says that it intends to train workers - particularly in communicating in English - before sending them overseas. This would help them not only in communicating better with their employers and co-workers but also in gaining access to better jobs.

Pledges Martono: ''We will send not only housemaids, but also skilled laborers such as hotel and restaurant, mining, and construction workers as well as paramedics.''

(Inter Press Service)



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