Indonesia stops sending workers to Malaysia over alleged breach of labor deal

Arie Firdaus and Muzliza Mustafa
2022.07.13
Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur
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Indonesia stops sending workers to Malaysia over alleged breach of labor deal A suspected illegal migrant worker from Indonesia (left) is detained before her papers are checked, during a crackdown in Kelang, outside Kuala Lumpur Sept. 1, 2013.
[Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters]

Indonesia has temporarily stopped sending workers to labor-starved Malaysia and slammed Kuala Lumpur for allegedly violating an agreement on recruiting workers and putting them at risk of being used as forced laborers. 

Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Hermono, who goes by one name, said Kuala Lumpur was using an “illegal” online recruitment system to hire Indonesian domestic help, contrary to the deal signed with much fanfare in April. 

“Malaysia does not respect [the agreement], so we suspended [sending workers] starting from today until there is a guarantee that Malaysia will stop the online recruitment system,” Hermono told BenarNews, adding that Jakarta took the decision after consultations with the foreign and manpower ministries. 

Hermono said the suspension would take effect immediately but Indonesia would send 10,000 workers to Malaysia because they were recruited before the decision was made. 

The suspension may deal a blow to Malaysia’s economic recovery efforts as well as its attempts to improve its bottommost ranking in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report. 

Malaysia has a shortage of at least 1.2 million workers across the manufacturing, plantation and construction sectors, Reuters recently reported, citing industry and government data. 

And in 2021, the U.S. State Department relegated Malaysia to Tier 3 in its annual report assessing efforts by countries worldwide to combat human trafficking, for not doing enough to put officials implicated in human trafficking behind bars. 

To combat issues such as trafficking and forced labor, among the provisions of the agreement between Malaysia and Indonesia was the introduction of the so-called One-Channel System for the recruitment, monitoring and repatriation of migrant workers for better oversight. 

According to the Indonesian embassy, around 352,000 Indonesian migrant workers were registered in Malaysia, most of them working in plantations. 

Indonesian envoy Hermono said the so-called MAID Online System (MOS) used by the Malaysian immigration department could put Indonesian workers at risk as it allows them to enter the country using a tourist visa before applying for a work permit. 

“Illegal online recruitment leads to unintended consequences,” he said.  

The agreement signed April 1 also intended to provide greater protection for Indonesian migrant workers in the neighboring country, following cases of abuse of domestic help by their employers.  

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” and visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Jakarta. 

“PM Ismail himself wanted President Jokowi to witness the signing, but now what’s the point? Malaysia goes its own way and does not agree with Indonesia, even though it is an agreement between governments,” Hermono said. 

‘The process is our process’ 

Meanwhile, Malaysian Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin defended the use of the online system, saying anyone entering the country must have proper documentation. 

“The online system is something that we have announced to the world. It is not only for Indonesia’s foreign workers, but for all foreign workers,” he said at an event in Malaysia when questioned by reporters. 

“The process is our process whether we want to do it online or through agents. It is all about understanding that only people that have documents can come and stay in our country,” he said. 

Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry said in a statement that it would talk to the Home Ministry “to find immediate solutions to the issues related to the entry of Indonesian foreign workers to the country.” 

Alex Ong, a labor activist with Migrant Care Malaysia, an NGO, called the Indonesian government’s move a “soft rebuke” to Malaysia, which he accused of not being serious about improving the conditions of migrant workers. 

“Malaysia doesn’t really appreciate the relationship between the two countries,” Alex told BenarNews. 

The President of the Malaysian Employment Agencies Association, Foo Yong Hooi, meanwhile, urged Malaysia’s government to comply with the agreement with Indonesia and abandon the online system. 

“The Ministry of Manpower has worked hard to comply with the MoU, but other ministries must also cooperate to ensure that it goes well,” Foo was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times. 

“There must be harmonization between ministries to ensure this suspension is lifted,” said Foo, adding that labor supply companies stood to lose out if the ban persisted.

Alvin Prasetyo in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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