Return of the Natives
More Indonesian migrant workers are returning home as employers terminate their contracts because of the global crisis.
AFTER 18 months working in Malaysia, Rabiah is now jobless. The 20-year-old returned home after her Malaysian employer, Shin-Etsu Sdn Bhd, terminated her work contract. Already since January Rabiah had felt the impact of the global crisis: no more overtime and her work days with the magnet producer reduced from four to two weeks a month.
Rabiah, graduate of a vocational school in Kebumen, Central Java, received her termination letter on March 21. She was lucky because, despite the crisis, her employer gave her an air ticket home. She was, however, paid only two months of the remaining six months of employment under the contract or 900 Malaysian ringgit.
Gatot Wiharto, a migrant worker in Libya, chose to quit and return home after PT Citra Megah Karya, an Indonesian construction company operating in that country, several times failed to pay his salary on time. His February salary was paid only later in March. Gatot returned by air two weeks ago using his own money.
More and more Indonesian migrant workers are losing their jobs and returning home. Rusdi Basalamah, Deputy Chair of the Association of Indonesian Labor Suppliers, said about 3,000 semi-skilled Indonesian migrant workers returned from the Middle East between late 2008 and February 2009. “But I believe the number won’t increase because many Indonesian contractors are again getting project contracts there,” he said.
No precise data on the number of Indonesian migrant workers returning home because of the global crisis are available. Data with the National Agency for Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers show that 15,000 Indonesian migrant workers had since 2008 lost their jobs in Malaysia, 10,000 of them in the country’s electronic industries. Chairman Jumhur Hidayat said an estimated 100,000 of 6 million Indonesian migrants worldwide would be sent home as the world’s industrial capacity dropped 30 percent this year.
A survey by Migrant Care Indonesia found that as many as 30,000 migrant workers had returned from Malaysia to Indonesian since 2008. But visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak said on Thursday last week that only 5,000 had been sent home because of the global crisis.
The return of so many thousands of workers will add to problems already faced by Indonesia at home. Sofjan Wanandi, Chairman of the Indonesian Association of Employers, said about 100,000 workers lost their jobs in the first quarter of this year. The Manpower Department put the number at a lower than 42,000, most of them employed in the construction, textiles and garments, electronics, footwear, and automotive industries.
Indef economist Ikhsan Modjo predicted as many as 2 million workers would lose their jobs during 2009-2010 as more industries went bankrupt. Unemployment was expected to be in the range of 9-11 percent, higher than 5.1 percent envisaged in the National Mid-Term Development Plan for 2009.
Officials disagreed with Ichsan’s pessimistic view. Rusman Heriawan, Chairman of the Central Bureau of Statistics, said that unemployment recorded in August at 9.4 million or 8.39 percent was expected to drop to 8 percent in 2010. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the global crisis was expected to ease in 2010 when the Indonesian economy would grow at an accelerated 5-6 percent. Every 1 percent of growth means about 400,000 job seekers would be absorbed into the labor force.
Syahrial Loetan, Secretary to the Minister of National Development Planning, said the return of the migrant workers won’t have a significant effect in terms of unemployment. Several measures have been taken by the government to cushion the impact of the global crisis, including the provision of cash and rice for the poor and credits for small businesses. The Manpower Department has allocated Rp300 billion in funds to stimulate the growth of small industries in areas where the migrant workers returned to.
But the International Labor Organization said the government was ill-prepared to face the growing number of returning workers. Albert Bonasahat, ILO Jakarta Coordinator of Migrant Workers National Program, said Indonesia should emulate Bangladesh which set up a task force to deal with the problem. Rather than being confident that the returning workers won’t be a problem, the government should prepare a proper response to the problem awaiting the returning workers who last year alone contributed Rp80.24 trillion in foreign exchange to the state coffers.