JAKARTA: When Henik Andriani first went to Singapore to work as a domestic worker in 2008, she only received S$80 for the first seven months even though her monthly salary was S$630.
A huge chunk of her pay was taken away by the employment agency to cover the expenses needed to place workers, such as flights and visas.
She went through a similar situation during her second stint in Singapore about a decade later, when she only received S$100 for four months before she was paid the full amount of S$600.
But she never complained or questioned the cut, as fellow migrant workers accepted it as “normal”.
“I don’t like to create problems. So as long as it was still proper, I accepted it,” Mdm Andriani told CNA.
But over the years, there have been reports of Indonesians receiving almost no salary for years, having fallen prey to employment agencies or brokers who overcharged and exploited labourers, according to the Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers, a government body that reports to the Indonesian president.
This prompted the government, through the agency, to introduce a new placement fee policy that mandates the employers to bear the costs, instead of the migrant workers, beginning Jan 15.
The new policy would apply to 10 kinds of jobs, including domestic helper, babysitter, caregiver for the elders, cook and family driver. Nanny, gardener, cleaner, plantation or farm worker and fishing boat crew are covered as well.
The employers would need to pay for the airfare, passport and visa fee, social insurance, medical and psychological examination, as well as local transport and accommodation. They also have to foot the bills of any additional costs depending on regulations in the countries of destination.
Migrant workers and non-governmental organisations (NGO) told CNA they are in favour of the new policy, which they feel would accord more protection to the workers.
However, questions remained as to whether Indonesian workers might lose out on job opportunities overseas, when employers decide to hire workers from other countries instead at lower costs.
The government agency overseeing migrant workers, while acknowledging the initial shock as potential employers adjust to the new policy, opined that this would push Indonesia to upgrade its workforce and stop sending its people abroad as blue-collar workers.
MORE PAY FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
In 2019, around 3.7 million Indonesian worked abroad, according to the Agency for the Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers.
Last year, about 172,000 Indonesians were repatriated due to COVID-19.
Mr Setiono, a former Indonesian migrant worker, is supportive of the new regulation.
The 48-year-old first went abroad in 2010 when he worked for a year in Sabah, Malaysia, as a construction worker. He also had his payment cut by his employment agency for the placement fee.
“I didn’t know what the policy was back then because it was my first time going abroad. I didn’t know and I didn’t dare to complain,” Mr Setiono said.
When he tried his luck working in Malaysia for the second time, he went independently and thus avoided a payment cut. But this step is considered illegal by the Indonesian authorities because regulations mandated that blue-collar workers must go through employment agencies.
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Now back in Cilacap, Central Java, doing odd jobs, Mr Setiono said he would consider going overseas again if the new policy meant less cost on his part.
“If there is no placement fee, and I can get a proper salary, I wouldn’t mind working abroad again,” he said.
Mr Wahyu Susilo, executive director of Jakarta-based NGO Migrant Care, concurred that the new regulation is a positive move.
“This greatly reduces the burden on our migrant workers, and we know that one of the main burdens of Indonesian labour migration is high-cost migration because it creates debt,” he said.
However, while the policy looks good on paper, Mr Setiono, the former migrant worker, has a lingering worry. Would employers mistreat the workers having forked out more money than before?
“Things like not giving the salary or facilities they initially promised,” he said, adding that he has heard of many stories of Indonesian workers being deceived by their employers.
Mdm Andriani shared similar concerns. The employers might pile more jobs on the migrant workers or be less tolerant when the workers make mistakes, she feared.
INITIAL SHOCK BUT A STEP THAT MUST BE TAKEN
Employment agencies in Indonesia have been urged to accept the new policy. They must be prepared to earn less profits, said chairman of Indonesia’s Manpower Services Association Ayub Basalamah.
“You cannot just gain big profit, there is a social aspect to this,” he said. There are more than 200 employment agencies under his association.
Mr Tatang Razak, chief secretary of the government agency for the protection of migrant workers, said the main aim of the policy is to stop the exploitation of Indonesian workers.
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It would initially come as a shock because many people have taken advantage of this overcharging of placement fees over the years, he noted.
On concerns that the new regulation could turn potential employers away and leave more Indonesians jobless, Mr Razak said this should be taken positively as an impetus to develop Indonesia’s workers and to stop sending its people abroad as blue-collar workers.
“Our target is to increase skilled professionals and slow down on sending low-skilled workers who are at high risk (of being exploited).”