Unease Grows over Foreign Workers in Indonesia

Arie Firdaus
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180914-ID-workers-620.jpg Workers march in Jakarta on International Workers’ Day, May 1, 2018.

Observers and labor activists have urged the Indonesian government to take action against the perceived influx of illegal foreign workers into the country as unease grows over allegations that Chinese workers are stealing menial jobs from Indonesians.

Local media have reported that foreigners, most of them Chinese nationals, have been caught working illegally in parts of the country. In the latest case, police rounded up dozens of Chinese who had worked in several factories in East Java province despite having entered the country on tourist visas.

“All this time supervision has been very weak,” Hadi Subyan, a labor observer at Airlangga University in Surabaya, told BenarNews.

He said that despite that fact that there are 40,000 companies operating in East Java, only 300 people are tasked with supervising them.

“How is that possible?” he said. “Worse still, supervision is being done at the provincial level, instead of the regency level, making them out of touch with the conditions on the ground.”

The president of the Indonesian Labor Union Confederation, Said Iqbal, urged the government to repeal a presidential decree on foreign workers issued in 2018, which officials said was aimed at attracting foreign investment and improving the economy.

“The government should be able to put things in order and take action because this is a threat to local workers, especially if the foreigners are recruited to do menial jobs.”

The decree stipulates, among other things, that employers can hire foreign workers by applying for a permit as late as two days after they have started working on jobs that are considered urgent.

Said said the provision had been used by companies to recruit foreign workers on the pretext of urgency.

“What’s happening is foreign workers are flooding Indonesia, instead of investment,” he said.

Chinese investment

Opposition politicians and government critics have capitalized on the issue of Chinese workers to attack the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ahead of next year’s election.

A deputy chairman of Gerindra, the main opposition party, Fery Juliantono claimed in April that the presidential decree on foreign workers was Jokowi’s ploy to facilitate the influx of Chinese workers.

Devi Asiati, a labor researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the growing number of Chinese working in Indonesia, both legally and illegally, was spurred by the increase in Chinese investment in Indonesia.

In 2016, China was the third largest investor in Indonesia, with investment valued at U.S. $2.6 billion. Singapore and Japan invested $9.17 billion and $5.4 billion, respectively.

But China jumped into the number two spot in 2017, with investment at $5.5 billion, according to Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) data.

“There has been growing Chinese investment in extractive resources such as mining, oil, gas and plantations,” Devi said.

Arrests in Surabaya

The immigration office in Surabaya arrested 53 foreigners this week, including 41 Chinese nationals, for allegedly working illegally.

“They were arrested because their visas were for tourism,” Surabaya immigration chief Romi Yudianto told the news website Detik.com.

Romi said one of the Chinese nationals worked as a technician in a factory making surfboards, even though only skilled foreigners are allowed to work in Indonesia.

In a separate incident, local workers besieged a lodging where Chinese workers were staying at a power plant project site in Serang, Banten province, on Sunday, after a scuffle between a local and two Chinese workers, Serang police chief Komarudin told CNN Indonesia.

Fears of foreigners taking over jobs from locals are often inflamed by baseless rumors spreading on social media and online messaging platforms that millions of Chinese have flooded the country.

Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said that the presence of Chinese workers should not be a cause for concern, as there are far more Indonesians working in Hong Kong than Chinese nationals working in Indonesia.

He said only about 126,000 foreign nationals were working in Indonesia as of March, including 24,000 Chinese.

“The number is still proportionate, compared to Indonesia’s population of 263 million,” he said last month.

“By comparison, there are 160,000 Indonesians working in Hong Kong,” he said.


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