RI workers ‘in danger’ in Mideast

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 06/26/2011 8:00 AM

In response to the Saudi Arabia government’s beheading of an Indonesian maid, Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said Arab countries were dangerous places for Indonesian workers.Speaking at a discussion on migrant worker protection in Jakarta on Saturday, the National Awakening Party (PKB) politician said that Arab countries “were ‘sensitive’ places for unskilled workers”.

Muhaimin said his ministry was gradually reducing the number of Indonesian workers going to Arab countries. “We are reducing the number while at the same time strengthening protection for those who still want to work there,” he said.

Fifty-four-year-old Ruyati binti Satubi was executed by beheading last Saturday after being found guilty of killing the wife of her Saudi employer, Khairiya binti Hamid Mijlid. She was reportedly often abused by her employer, did not receive her salary, was underfed and not allowed to return home.

Sulistyowati Irianto, an expert on women and gender studies, said people often harbored misleading perceptions about Arab society.

“Workers choose to go to Arab countries because they think that most Arabs, being Muslims, are just like many of them. Migrant worker placement firms often convince them that they will receive many benefits serving the descendants of Prophet Muhammad,” she said.

Sulistyowati, who chairs the University of Indonesia Center for Women and Gender Studies, said that in her research, she interviewed 170 overseas workers in the United Arab Emirates.

“Most of them worked for Muslim families, but they weren’t allowed to pray,” she said. “The employers didn’t want to lose 10 or 15 minutes of the maids’ working time.”

Another misleading perception, Sulistyowati said, was that Arab countries offered promising prospects for workers. “Migrant workers relate religious ties to their hopes of getting a better job and earning more money,” she said.

Migrant Care, an NGO advocating for the welfare of Indonesian workers abroad, reported in 2007 that 38 percent of cases of physical abuse against workers took place in Saudi Arabia, another 5 percent in Kuwait and 3 percent in Jordan.

Last year, the organization reported that 5,563 cases of physical abuse against Indonesian workers were reported in Saudi Arabia alone.

Muhaimin, however, highlighted that the government had significantly improved protection for migrant workers.

“To the NGOs and media, I call on you to please open your eyes to what we have done so far,” he said, referring to a deal signed with Saudi Arabia last month.

Muhaimin also blamed migrant worker placement firms for failing to equip workers with enough skills and knowledge and thus exposing them to imminent threats.

“There are several recruiting agencies that wash their hands of the workers once they have been sent abroad, leaving them unprotected and exploited,” he said.

Former migrant worker Imas, who attended the discussion, told the minister she was ignored by
her placement firm soon after she arrived in Kuwait. Muhaimin said his ministry had laid out stricter regulations on firms sending workers abroad.

“Now no company can treat workers the way they want to. There are regulations,” he said.

Muhaimin added that the government would enforce the supervision of migrant worker placement firms by imposing heavy sanctions to ensure they properly prepared workers. “The ministry plans to reduce the number of firms so we can better oversee them,” he said.

He said the ministry wanted the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labor to be the only body allowed to issue certificates of worthiness. “Only certified workers can go abroad,” he said. (lfr)


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