Fate of the Indonesian workers – Excluded from jobs in their own country

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(illustration: IO/Rudraksha)

IO, Jakarta – Rife reports on the massive entry of Chinese foreign workers is currently a hot national topic. Everyone is alarmed about a possible hidden agenda behind the unexplained influx of Chinese nationals into Indonesia.

May 1 is customarily celebrated as “World Labor Day”. However, this year’s Labor Day might prove to be grim. Recently, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has issued Presidential Regulation (Peraturan Presiden – “Perpres”) Number 20 year 2018, concerning the Use of Foreign Workers (Tenaga Kerja Asing – “TKA”). This policy benefits only TKAs, while not allowing local workers more space, access or opportunities to work in their own country. This is contrary to the letter and spirit of the 1945 Constitution, Article 27 Paragraph 2, which states that “All citizens have the right to occupations and livelihoods that are sufficient for humanity.”

It is true that we need the investment these foreign workers might bring along with them. However, such investments must not threaten the sovereignty of our country. All children of our motherland have the right to sufficient occupations and a decent livelihood. However, if access is given to foreign nationals for work that we could have done ourselves, what can we hope for? It is the Government’s duty to help its citizen to achieve this. Can – or will – it do that?

May Day Demands
The President of the Indonesian Labor Union Confederation (Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia – “KSPI”), Said Iqbal, announced that for this year’s May Day, KSPI has a number of demands. First, reduce the prices of rice, electricity, and fuel, by establishing food and energy sovereignty. Second, say NO to TKAs, in this case unskilled Chinese laborers. Third, revoke Perpres Number 20 year 2018, a rule that makes it easier for TKA to enter Indonesia. Fourth, stop outsourcing. Fifth, elect a pro-labor candidate as RI president in 2019.

Expressing similar views as KSPI, the President of the Association of Indonesian Labor Unions (Asosiasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia – “Aspek”), Mirah Sumirat, elaborated her 3 demands: first, say NO to TKAs whose presence here injures the livelihoods of Indonesian workers. Second, stop massive layoffs. Third, say NO to low wages.

Ease of Regulations
The massive entry of Chinese TKAs into Indonesia started with a “Turnkey Project Management” agreed between the Chinese government and the Indonesian government. The Turnkey Project Management regulates how China invests in Indonesia, stipulating use of their products, machines & tools, and workforce. Our Government ostensibly signed this Turnkey Project Management, to accelerate national economic development.

Mirah states that the accommodation and implementation of the Turnkey Project Management requires supporting regulations. One of these regulations is the “freedom of visa” granted to 169 countries. “Freedom of visa is just a cover. If you ask the Ministry of Tourism, it does not exert any significant impact on tourism income. On the contrary, a lot of people abuse their stay permits. For example, they come in using tourist visas, but actually work here,” Mirah said to the Independent Observer.

Another regulation that eases the path of TKA entry is the Regulation of the Minister of Labor (Peraturan Menteri Tenaga Kerja – “Permenaker”) Number 16, year 2015, which eliminated the requirement of an examination to confirm mastery of Indonesian language for foreign workers. Furthermore, there is Permenaker Number 35, year 2015, concerning the elimination of the 1:10 ratio of TKAs to Local Workers. “This ratio means that for every 1 TKA you employ, you must employ 10 locals, so that there is a transfer of knowledge and skills. But this stipulation has been revoked,” Mirah complained.

Another one to be eliminated is the obligation to pay a TKA Utilization Compensation Fee (Dana Kompensasi Penggunaan – “DKP”) at USD 100.00 (about Rp 1,360,000.00) per position per month in Rupiah. This means that the companies that pay the DKP TKA no longer need to convert the payment of their fee into Rupiah, because now they can use USD. “But in fact, by law all transactions must be concluded in Indonesian Rupiah,” Mirah pointed out.

The final straw of all the rules that are getting even further bent for TKAs is Perpres Number 20, year 2018. Companies that want to apply for Permit to Employ Foreign Workers (Izin Mempekerjakan Tenaga Kerja Asing – “IMTA”) need only 2 days to get their permits approved. “This is amazing. At a time when Indonesians have trouble applying for their own permits, even their citizen identity cards which took years to be issued: here are strangers getting into Indonesia so easily. This is dangerous. We no longer filter whether they are really useful workers, or dangerous drug mafias. This country allows entry and work to foreign workers so easily – these TKAs are granted work for 2 years, and they can extend if they want to. This is amazing – what a convenience. These TKAs can also take 2 jobs in 2 different places. That’s the contents of Perpres Number 20,” Mirah said.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman of DPR Fahri Hamzah states that plenty of foreign workers have been coming to Indonesia prior to the issuance of Perpres Number 20 year 2018. However, this Perpres seems to legalize their arrival. Fahri stated that the influx of unskilled TKAs is a violation of the law. “We only allow skilled foreign workers who have the ability to transfer their skills here. Unskilled workers have no place here,” he reiterated.

Said further states that the Perpres issued by President Jokowi violates the Constitution of 1945. This is because the Constitution rules that all citizens have the right to occupation and livelihood that is sufficient for humanity, yet unskilled Chinese workers fill in job opportunities that Indonesians could have done by themselves. This means that the Perpres also violates Law Number 13, year 2003. “According to Law Number 13, we call in skilled workers, those who actually have unique skills. This regulation also states that each single TKA must be accompanied by 10 local workers. The purpose is for work transfers, so that for TKAs who work for a specific time, complete their contract in 3-4 years, do not have their positions filled in by new foreign workers, but by newly-trained locals,” Said stated.

TKA Breakdown
Minister of Labor Hanif Dhakiri stated that the number of special TKAs used by Indonesia as of the end of 2017 was recorded at 85,974. When these 85,974 TKA is broken down, 52,633 of them are found to have worked in the service sector; 30,625 in industry; and 2,716 in agriculture and maritime.

By position, 12,779 were consultants; 15,596 were directors; 2,173 were commissioners; 20,099 were managers, 23,869 were professionals, 2,314 were supervisors, and 9,144 were technicians.

In terms of country of origin, most of these workers came from China (24,804), followed by Japan (13,540). 2,526 came from the United States; 2,603 from Australia; 6,237 from India; 2,016 from England; 9,521 came from South Korea. 4,603 came from Malaysia; 3,174 from the Philippines; 1,915 from Singapore; and 15,035 from various other countries.

Based on this data, Hanif explained how the ratio of special TKA employment in Indonesia is still quite low, i.e. about 0.1% of the total number of Indonesian citizens. However, Said shows different data. According to KSPI, there are 157,000 Chinese TKAs. From various other sources, the combined total might reach 1 million people.

The Director General of Immigration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Ronny F. Sompie, stated that in 2016, 1,401,443 Chinese citizens came to Indonesia and 1,452,249 Chinese citizens left Indonesia. “The Directorate General of Immigration states that 1-3 Chinese citizens (tourists?) enter Indonesia every year. That is visa free, we don’t know how many have returned home. If 300-400 people stay in 3 years, the total is more than 1 million,” he said.

Said stated that the main point of concentration for Chinese TKAs is Pulo Gadung, East Jakarta. “There is a steel mill there, with 30% of its employees being Chinese TKAs. In Morowali, Government data reveal that there are 1,000 Chinese TKAs, but the local resident said the actual number is closer to 8,000 individuals. We also have a lot of them in Pandeglang, Banten, Karawang, Bekasi, and Tangerang. So instead of issuing a Perpres, we should act, tell them to go home. Then we must stop free visas for China – we must reinstitute a visa control so we can clearly measure how many come in, how many are working here and how many have returned,” Said stated.

Forming a Special Committee is a Must
Fahri revealed that the DPR is currently formulating a memorandum of DPR right to raise the question of the TKA issue. The memorandum will contain a temporary conclusion that a violation of law has already occurred. “This is what we are working on, and I hear that some friends are ready to sign it. I’m also ready to sign it, because there have been too many problems due to the influx of unskilled laborers into Indonesia,” Fahri said. The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) politician said that he has investigated the suspicion of governmental violations in the field. “Since there are two violations, I agree that we should fill in a memorandum of questioning,” Fahri said.

The first violation occurred before the Perpres, one that gives convenience to foreign workers, was issued. Fahri saw in the field that the TKAs being called in do not have special skills, while the law said that only skilled workers are allowed, and then these skilled workers must transfer their skills. Another main requirement for TKAs coming in is that they must master the Indonesian language in order to be able to transfer their skills. “Well, there is nothing like that at all. I’ve checked the field. So that’s a violation,” said the NTB-born politician.

The second violation occurs when the Perpres was issued. This regulation is clearly lower than the Law that the Government has clearly violated. Therefore, he stated that the issuance of the Perpres must be investigated. Fahri said that many unemployed Indonesians get jealous because the Government calls in foreign workers. “It is not sufficient that the TKA policy uses interpellation with written responses, but investigations must be made through the TKA Questionnaire Special Committee (Panitia Khusus – “Pansus”). This is because in interpellation, there are no investigations, no field visits, no summonses. Only questions being asked and answered during hearings,” he reiterated.

Fahri stated that his reason for suggesting that a Pansus is created for the DPR right to question the TKA issue is because he suspects that the Government’s decision has violated the law, so that the monitoring level has exceeded the ordinary questioning right or interpellation. He further said that the right to ask questions is a right of individual members, while the interpellation right is the right of the institution to pose questions in writing. However, because there is a suspicion that the policy has violated the law, a Special Committee is required to investigate the policy. He is not worried that the creation of the Pansus to question TKA issues will arouse new conflicts in the national politics.

Mirah agrees that the people’s representatives in Senayan should create the Pansus. “Because this is in violation of the Constitution, in this case Article 27,” she said.

Expectations for the Government
Mirah said that she is not averse to foreign investment. However, the Government should be more concerned with the interests of the public. “Check the clauses and agreements when accepting foreign investments – will the people’s welfare be harmed or is something else amiss? Don’t just leave it all in the investor’s hands just because we need their investment. That’s very dangerous,” she said.

The current government is pro-foreign interests, so it lays down the red carpet for investors, while on the other hand, millions of Indonesians do not have a decent job. The President has promised to open 10 million job opportunities in his campaigns, but there were more than 200,000 layoffs in 2016-2017. This is pathetic. Therefore, during the last days of his tenure, if Jokowi cannot fulfil his campaign promise, he would do well to apologize. “He must not issue regulations that might injure the people’s welfare,” she said.

On the other hand, Said requests that the Government revokes Perpres Number 20 year 2018. Does the current government dare to do that? Let us wait and see together.

Rahmat Ramadhan, enslaved in his own country
Rahmat Ramadhan, an ordinary worker from Southeast Sulawesi, confirmed the massive entry of Chinese workers into Indonesia. When Independent Observer met him in Buaran Plaza, East Jakarta, he pulled no punches as he described the unfair and discriminative treatment that he and his colleagues suffered.

For 2 years, he worked for a Chinese company, PT Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry in the Regency of Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi. Rahmat, who had a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Halu Oleo University, Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, was hired as a boiler operator. According to his job description, he controls the heating and steam level of boilers. “There were only 8 locals in my division, the remaining 30 were TKAs from China,” he said.

He suffered various unpleasant experiences during his tenure there. Even though he is a Bachelor graduate with clear job description, Rahmat was made to do additional, menial work. “Virtue Dragon did not have office boys (OB) then. So they made Indonesian workers double as OBs. For example, even though I was a boiler operator, I was also made to do OB work, such as cleaning up the offices. They (the Chinese TKAs) said that this is part of the employee routine,” he said.

Not only cleaning up the offices, the Indonesian workers must also fetch food and drink for their Chinese counterparts. “So during mealtimes, they made us fetch food for the Chinese workers. The distance from our worksites to the dining hall is 500 meters. They refused to fetch their food themselves, because they said that’s part of our (Indonesian worker) routine work. We’re actually being enslaved by foreigners in our own country,” he said.

These Chinese workers cannot speak Indonesian. Yet they refused to learn and made the Indonesian workers learn Mandarin Chinese instead. “They say it’s not obligatory, but if we don’t participate in the lessons, they give us warning letters. We must take 1 hour’s lesson every day, usually after we finish our work hours, depending on our shift schedules. If we’re in the morning shift, we do the lesson in the afternoon. If we’re in the night shift, we do the lessons in the morning. The teachers are our own people,” he said.

Other discriminative treatments faced by Rahmat and the other Indonesian workers in the company include salary and religious facility. “For example, my salary was about Rp 2 million a month, but a TKA with the same level and position earns Rp 13 million,” he said. Indonesians are also not given overtime pay, even though they work exceeding normal hours. “Normally, people work 40 hours a week, but we frequently had to work 44 hours a week without overtime pay,” he said. As for religious facility, the company does not provide any space for Indonesian workers, who are mostly Muslims, to pray. “So, we had to pray in our offices or any other site using cardboard as praying mats, while the management should have constructed a masjid or at least a musholla for us,” he said.

The company was known to employ a total of 2000+ people, 60% of them being TKAs, 40% being Indonesians. These foreign workers include not only highly skilled professionals, but also unskilled workers. “The workers brought in from out there (China) are also inexperienced. They had to learn too,” he said.

Many work that locals could have done are in fact performed by the Chinese – cement casting, constructing roads and fences, driving. On the 23 April, the local government held a sudden inspection, but the info was leaked. “So, they disappeared from 4 a.m. only to come back later when the inspectors were gone,” he said. (Dessy Aipipidely)