Travel warning for ‘brave family fighters’ © Duncan Graham 2007
Every day a special complaints hotline set up by the Indonesian trade office in Taiwan gets about 300 hits from distressed Indonesian workers.
Around ten per cent concern serious issues, including alleged sexual assaults, physical and emotional abuse, withholding of pay and slashing of wages, bad living conditions and breaches of work contracts.
The issues are so worrying and consistent that a senior Indonesian official has called for the whole Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (TKI – Indonesian overseas labor force) system to be overhauled from the top down.
The claims were made by Ferry Yahya, head of the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office to Taipei (the capital of Taiwan) at a public event in Taipei this week to raise awareness of Indonesia’s labor contribution to the Taiwan economy.
There are around 105,000 Indonesian workers in the island state, about one third of the total overseas labor force. Most are women domestic workers.
“We installed the SMS (short message service) system last year to handle concerns and it takes a huge number of hits,” Ferry said.
“We treat these complaints seriously and pass some on to the Taiwan government authorities for action. We also have three shelters for women fleeing abuse.
“But there’s also a need for the whole TKI system to be revised. This has to be done upstream.
“These people are brave fighters for their families, but they have to be better prepared back in Indonesia. They should be able to speak foreign languages, particularly English and Mandarin.
“Not all labor agencies are fair in their dealings. Some add fees and charges that aren’t in the employment contracts.
“There’s a great need for clarity and transparency in documents, with government officials scrutinizing contracts. There are regulations controlling agents but they are not being enforced. I’ve raised these issues in Jakarta. The matter is urgent.
“The situation for Indonesian workers is better in Taiwan than many other countries. The pay here is higher and there are counseling services available. But I must stress that being an overseas worker isn’t easy.”
About 200 Indonesians are in detention in Taiwan for allegedly breaking their visa conditions and running away from their employers. So far this year 13 have died from natural causes and accidents. There has been one suicide.
Ferry said language differences were at the heart of many disputes. Most Taiwanese speak Mandarin and few among the older generation speak English.
There is no independent union representing Indonesian workers in Taiwan.
At the event, staged at the studios of Radio Taiwan International (RTI), eight maids working in Taiwan were reunited with family members who flew from Indonesia to meet their relatives and celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day.
RTI chairman Yu Cheng said his station’s Indonesian language programs were the only way workers could get information about local and international events in their native tongue.
Ferry said the event was promoted to lift awareness of Indonesian workers’ rights. “We must show employers that the TKI are human beings with strong emotional ties to Indonesia,” he said. “They’re making great sacrifices to help their families back home. They needed to be treated with respect.”
Any Prayogiati, 35, originally from Cilacap (Central Java) said she had been hit in the back by her employer when she couldn’t understand instructions. She has been in Taiwan for 18 months and works in an old people’s home handling incontinent patients.
She said she originally found the work disgusting but was prepared to keep going because she could send about Rp 5 million (US $550) home every month.
Any said she was able to attend the event only at the last minute when organizers persuaded her employer that she wouldn’t run away. If she took a day off every week her pay was deducted.
“I wasn’t paid for several months as my salary was used to repay the labor contractor’s fees,” she said.
“There are no Islamic prayer facilities so I have to use a Buddhist shrine and ask God for His forgiveness”.
Her husband Maryoko could not come to Taiwan because he is also a TKI working at a prawn farm in Malaysia.
(First published in The Sunday Post 19 August 07)