Can you imagine being prevented from leaving your own country because you might be looking for employment abroad?
This happened to several Indonesian women last month. They paid their fees, they were ready to depart, but they were held at the border by Indonesian immigration authorities.
The stops were triggered by the government’s “Zero-Domestic Worker” moratorium. In a personal letter to the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS), the Minister of Manpower explained the moratorium aims to prevent “multi-tasking work” abroad. In his vision, only laborers with specified skills leave the country. This excludes domestic helpers, who clean, cook, nurse the sick and elderly, and generally take care of families.
In effect, while mostly male factory workers may still go, women lose their only chance of increasing their earning potential and gaining skills and experience that could improve their prospects.
Sadly, the moratorium, along with complex recruitment procedures, encourage Indonesians to seek dangerous avenues to work abroad. Cases of illegal migrants drowning at sea whilst attempting to cross to or from Malaysia are frustratingly common.
This week, the Saudi Arabian royal family is in Indonesia with an entourage of 1,500 people. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest receiving countries of migrant workers but, unfortunately, Saudi Arabia’s restrictive kafala (visa-sponsorship) system will not be on the offical agenda of this visit. This system grants employers’ excessive power over domestic workers and facilitates abuse.
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Legally barring women from working in Saudi Arabia is no solution and criminalizes the wrong people. We’ve spoken out against the moratorium in a press event “Love the Migrant Workers” on Valentine’s Day. Collaborating with Migrant Care and the Migrant Institute, we urged the government to withdraw their moratorium on migrant workers.
Indonesian migrant workers support their families and villages at home with more than 9.4 billion USD per year (2015) but the number of migrant workers has continuously dropped in recent years. Fewer and fewer women are able to go, while the rest are losing their chance of improving their social status in Indonesia.
We encourage you to watch some of the inspiring stories of these women. Take for instance Ibu Misliyati who is fluent in English from her time working in Singapore, Kuwait, and Hong Kong. CIPS documented how her work experience helped her build a pick-up & delivery laundry business in her town. Then there’s Ibu Rohayati, now a successful baker, and Ibu Novi, who manages a child care centre after returning from work abroad.
Women like these deserve the opportunity learn new skills and improve their future earning potential – and if that means going abroad, that shouldn’t be a problem. The government is effectively banning them from working and limiting their future career prospects. It needs to end.
Rainer Heufers is the Executive Director of the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies. This article was originally sent out to the CIPS mailing list.