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Steep steps for Indonesian migrant workers

By Rindang Farihah, Director, Mitra Wacana WRC

Nobody suspected that behind the abundance of success stories circulating in the community about former Indonesian migrant workers (tenaga kerja Indonesia or TKI) when returning home, there is a diverse array of sad stories. Usually we see life working abroad as a success story. Especially seeing their large and spacious homes, other people think working as a migrant worker must have a positive impact on the economy. Each month they always send money (remittance) to families in the homeland.

Reporting from the Development Research and Information Center (PUSLITFO) of the National Body for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Workers (BNP2TKI), there are more than 6.5 million Indonesian workers spread across 142 countries. According to the same source, up to the end of 2014, the number of people seeking work overseas is fluctuating. But in 2013-2014 there was a drop in the placement of Indonesian workers and decreased placement of migrant workers in informal sectors.

In 2013 as many as 512,168 people, including 285,297 (56%) formal workers and 226,871 (44%) informal workers. In 2014 as many as 429,872 people, 247,610 (58%) as formal workers and 182,262 (42%) as informal workers. In 2011 – 2014 the number of female migrant workers was higher than male migrant workers. There were 243,629 (57%) female and 186,243 (43%) male migrant workers.

The decrease was due to:
1. The moratorium policy on placement of informal migrant workers to the Middle East.
2. Application of the fingerprint system in training briefing undertaken by the government.
3. Reduced availability of unskilled workers.

As a developing country, Indonesia is the fourth largest remittance recipient in the world. This data is reported in the World Bank report entitled ‘Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016’. In 2015 the flow of money (remittances) sent by Indonesian workers is estimated to reach USD$10.5 billion, equivalent to IDR 146 trillion. Some of the money is channelled to households to meet their daily needs or to the original purpose of their departure. From the data gathered by Mitra Wacana WRC in interviews with 150 former migrant workers in six villages in three districts in Kulon Progo district, the biggest motivations are to cover the cost of education, to pay off debt, stress at home, unemployment and domestic violence.

But the success they took home hides heartbreaking stories. They must endure in order to prevail and survive overseas, and eventually be able to return safely and bring the money to make a living in their homeland.

Not all migrant workers are able to send money every month. Some lose their hard earned money due to errors in distributing the money. A significant amount of migrant workers send money using unauthorized services. Of course, this is so the money is not taxed or because they do not know a safe remittance channel. Ironically, the issue of remittances is just one of dozens of issues experienced by them as heroes of foreign exchange. It is very unfortunate after many years of being separated from their family they lose their hard-earned money.

Another problem that often happens to migrant workers is violence in the form of sexual exploitation. Cases of sexual violence mostly afflicts migrant workers who work in some Middle Eastern countries. Mitra Wacana WRC found two cases of sexual assault resulting in unwanted pregnancy. Cases of sexual violence and even cases resulting in death in the Middle East is the reason for the moratorium on workers to the Middle East, especially of domestic helpers (housemaids) in six countries in the Middle East (Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates). A moratorium was imposed because these countries did not guarantee the protection of migrant workers. In addition to these issues, the moratorium was needed because there were many cases of physical violence, psychological abuse, sexual abuse (rape by employers / employer’s family, unwanted pregnancy), economic violence (salary not paid) and even some cases leading to the death penalty.

As a final note, according to the author, the departure of Indonesian workers abroad contributes to the development of related efforts to improve children’s education and making more feasible livelihoods, especially in their area of origin. It was appropriate for us to embed foreign exchange heroes for Indonesian migrant workers. But it remains to be a chore for the Indonesian government to increase safeguards and ensure their rights are protected. And our common task is ensuring the Draft Law on the Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (UU PPILN) fulfils its purpose.

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