(Jakarta) – Indonesia’s ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention will bring new protections for millions of Indonesian migrant workers. The Indonesian parliament adopted the international treaty on April 12, 2012, without reservations in a plenary session. Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry estimates that more than three million Indonesians work abroad and, because of high numbers of undocumented migrants and gaps in data, the actual figure is probably much higher. Indonesian migrant workers are concentrated in low-paying, poorly regulated sectors such as domestic work, agriculture, and construction in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.
“The Indonesian government’s ratification of the Migrant Workers Convention demonstrates a strong commitment to protecting its citizens as they are recruited and work abroad and when they return home,” said Anis Hidayah, executive director at Migrant Care. “This is an extremely positive development for the migrant women and men who make extraordinary sacrifices to support their families, and who too often encounter abuse.”The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Migrant Workers Convention)guarantees migrants’ human rights and promises government protection against abuse by employers, recruitment agents, and public officials. It is one of the nine core treaties of the international human rights system.
Migrants’ rights groups in Indonesia had campaigned for the government to ratify the convention since its adoption in 1990. The government signed the convention in September 2004, but was not legally bound to comply with its provisions until ratification.
Migrant Care and Human Rights Watch have both documented how Indonesian recruiters may deceive women domestic workers about employment conditions abroad, confine them in training centers for months, and charge excessive recruitment fees that leave them heavily indebted. In Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, migrant domestic workers often work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Many are not paid; some are confined, beaten, or raped by their employers.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sent a letter on February 7 to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Law and Human Rights, and Manpower and Transmigration, to support ratification. On April 9, a hearing involving these ministries and the parliamentary commission in the House of Representatives that oversees labor (Commission IX) resulted in agreement to bring the ratification bill to a plenary session for adoption.
The government will now be obliged to harmonize its national laws with the standards in the convention. Migrant Care and Human Rights Watch called on the government to establish appropriate bodies to monitor the implementation of the protections outlined in the convention. The government is considering revising the 2004 Law 39 on the placement and protection of migrant workers to provide a more comprehensive legal framework on migration.
“The Indonesian government should keep up the momentum by moving quickly to revise Law 39 to comply with the protections in the Migrant Workers Convention,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It should incorporate human rights protections at every stage of migration and improve cooperation with other governments so that there can be real improvements in the lives of migrant workers.”
Indonesia has taken incremental steps to strengthen protections, including imposing a two-year ban on migration while negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysiathat guarantees Indonesian domestic workers a weekly rest day and the ability to keep their passports. The government has engaged in high-level diplomatic efforts in response to cases of physical abuse and killings of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Indonesia has also established a task force to examine the situation of Indonesians facing the death penalty abroad.
“The Indonesian government has stepped up its reform efforts, but many Indonesian migrant workers continue to be cheated by recruiters, exploited by employers, and neglected by the government authorities who are supposed to protect them,” said Hidayah. “The government has now taken an important step toward the comprehensive changes that could really make a difference in migrants’ lives, and the challenge for them will be to follow through on the commitments they are making today.”