Since Indonesian president Jokowi Widodo announced on February 13 to stop Indonesian migrant workers to work as domestic help in other Asian countries, the plan faces skepticism within Indonesia, while migrant worker importers begin to look elsewhere.

On February 13, President Widodo said that the practice of Indonesian women going overseas to work as housemaids must “stop immediately” since it was a matter of national dignity. Widodo had recently visited Indonesians working as domestic help in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. For the moment, the Indonesian government plans to protect workers from doing work not specified in their contracts, with a full ban expected by 2017.

Indonesian domestic caretakers have also become common in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In Taiwan, caretakers owe hefty brokerage fees to brokers, face employers who treat them as all-around maids, and in general are looked down upon by the society at large. In Hong Kong, a woman was found on February 8 to be guilty of 18 charges against her Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, including failure to pay wages, grave bodily harm and starvation.

In Taiwan, Indonesians account for 41.6% of all foreign nationals working in Taiwan, and 79.4% of all human health foreign workers, the largest of any country of origin.

Within Indonesia, critics of the plan say that limiting people to only work within Indonesia will increase unemployment and rob people of their freedom to work where they please. Instead of limiting job opportunities, critics such as Anis Hidayah of Migrant Care, a worker rights group, say that the government should focus more on protecting workers’ safety and conditions instead.

In addition, the wages of migrant workers, while often under the minimum wage in many host countries, are still enough to support family members back in Indonesia. Illegal smuggling of workers is also cited as a problem.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor has already announced it will seek to import workers from Myanmar to replace Indonesian workers. Opponents criticized the plan as “simply seeking a new source of slave labor,” according to Taiwan International Workers’ Association researcher Wu Jing-ru (吳靜如).

Taiwan has a one of the world’s fastest aging society. Premier Mao Chi-kuo said that Taiwan’s working age population will hit its peak this year, and will decline by 180,000 next year. According to the National Development Council, 1 out of 5 people in Taiwan will be 65 years old or older by 2025. Importing workers from abroad, to not only take care of the elderly but to provide for the labor force as a whole, may continue to be a necessary part of Taiwan’s social landscape.

(Feature photo of Indonesian domestic workers gathering in Hong Kong, by FlyingToaster on Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 3.0)


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