27 November, 2010

Indonesia:"Multilateral Diplomacy Is the Key to Protecting the Rights of Migrant Workers"

Budi Akmal Djafar | November 26, 2010

Indonesia is once again on the back foot after Sumiati binti Salan Mustapa, a female migrant worker, was allegedly tortured by her employer in Saudi Arabia. The victim suffered severe injuries, including being burned with an iron and having her lips cut with scissors.

This is hardly the first time an Indonesian migrant worker, known here as TKI, has been mistreated and suffered abuse at the hands of her employer.

There have been numerous similar cases in the past, primarily in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, where these workers have become not just victims of abuse, but also murder.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono strongly condemned the incident in Saudi Arabia and immediately put together a special team comprised of members from the State Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide Sumiati, 23, with the necessary medical treatment and legal assistance in Saudi Arabia. At a press conference, Yudhoyono expressed his anger and told his ministers that he wanted “all-out diplomacy.”

But the question we need to ask is why does violence against Indonesian workers abroad continue to occur? Lawmakers have offered several explanations.

First, there is a severe lack of government oversight. Migrant workers are recruited through agencies that are often of dubious credibility, usually lured by the prospect of high-paying jobs overseas. But they rarely receive the proper safeguards to protect them if things go wrong.

Moreover, these workers rarely receive sufficient training. They are rarely taught the language of their work destination or briefed on their legal rights prior to their job placements. They are usually blind to the risks involved in working overseas.

It is like they are being thrown into the ocean without having first been taught how to swim.

Singapore, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have not ratified and signed the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

The convention does more than just protect the fundamental rights of workers. It sets a moral standard and guarantees fair and equal treatment for this vulnerable class.

Consequently, it is quite difficult to hold these countries accountable when they are not fully committed in upholding the rights of migrant workers. Indonesia signed the international agreement in 2006.

The Indonesian government has so far failed to sign concrete bilateral agreements with any of these three countries. Even though a memorandum of agreement on Indonesian workers in Malaysia has been signed, it only outlines protections for domestic workers, leaving others to fend for themselves. Indonesia has failed to find a common understanding with Saudi Arabia on the protection of migrant workers’ rights

And finally, being employed is more than just about earning an income, but it is also a way to build respect and human dignity. For some workers at home, the only way to seek a brighter future is to cross national borders — any employment is better than nothing. Migrant workers are usually desperate for work and our country is not able to provide it for them.....more

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