Every year, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians go overseas to work. The National Agency of Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI) recorded that in 2009 748,825 people went overseas to work, three quarters of them women.
The massive flow has shaped emigration over the last 15 years. Compared to 1994, the 2009 figure represents a 300 percent increase, a magnitude that is extremely difficult to manage. In terms of stock, moderate figures of Indonesian overseas workers amount to between 4.5 million and 6 million people.
A dramatic increase of migrant flow and stock following the 1997 economic crisis will unavoidably augment the likelihood of problems. Migrant workers are inherently vulnerable.
They are prone to danger even if they migrate legally, let alone if they migrate illegally/irregularly. The International Labor Organization estimated that Indonesian illegal/irregular migrations outnumbered legal ones by 2 to 4 times in 2009 (Tirtosudarmo, 2009).
Due to the complex nature of emigration, good governance is a must. For one thing, we are sending a huge number of female laborers to do the “3 Ds” (dirty, difficult, dangerous) types of work.
For another thing, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are the two biggest destination countries of Indonesian workers; both are not open in terms of handling human rights issues and with them the government has not been able to draft a bilateral agreement.
Without good governance, Indonesia can fall into the trap of endorsing forced labor or people trafficking.
The question is who should be held responsible for emigration governance in the context of a decentralized Indonesia. Indeed, policy and institutional framework seems to be inconclusive in the division of labor between central and local governments.
It is particularly inconclusive because overseas employment lies in the area of employment as well as foreign affairs. Law No. 32/2004 on regional development stipulates that employment is a decentralized matter whether foreign or not.
On the other hand, those in favor of centralized governance argue that Law No. 13/2003 on employment (articles 33 and 34) clearly differentiates between domestic and overseas employment; the latter being regulated by different law (Naekma and Pageh, 2009). Consequently, the migrant worker issues which are not regulated by Law No. 13/2003 are also the issues that are not decentralized.
One year after the passing of the employment law, the migrant law was approved by the House of Representatives, i.e. Law No. 39/2004 on the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers.
The law mandates the establishment of the BNP2TKI: A body with service centers in 15 provinces (BP3TKI), and four service posts at the district level (BP4TKI). Indirectly, the formation of the BNP2TKI reinforces that from the perspective of the government, overseas employment is more of a centralist matter.
However, a series of interviews I held with NGOs — including the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), Ecosoc Rights, Unifem, Migrant Care — demonstrated strong support for decentralization in emigration governance. Although overseas employment has foreign affairs elements, the centralist management will be unable to handle the micro-level problems.
Compared to violence and abuse by employers in the destination countries, problems such as identity fraud, cheat, systematic extortion, detention, etc. which occur in Indonesia make up 80 percent of the problems faced by migrants.
Problems that actually happen at the local level can be more effectively handled by the local government.
This is in line with Law No. 32/2004 (article 14), which requires local governments to provide service and protection for the workers in their local jurisdiction.
One should not forget that it is in the interest of the local government to pursue good emigration governance. The most tangible gain from emigration — the remittance — is more influential at the local rather than national level. In 2009 Blitar District recorded Rp 117 billion in remittances, equal to 10 percent of the regional budget (APBD).
Meanwhile, the remittances of West Lombok reached Rp 395 billion or 10 times more than its total local revenue (PAD).
At the same time, the pain of emigration is also more significant locally. Problems of violence, abuse and other social costs end up being problems for the local governments to solve. It is therefore in the interest of the local governments to pursue good emigration governance to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of emigration.
The context of decentralization has given room to local governments’ initiative to fill in the existing policy gaps.
For example, protection mechanisms have been missing from national policy frameworks and hence can be the area where the local governments intervene.
Good practices in emigration governance have been demonstrated by some regions. West Lombok and Blitar regencies are among a few regions that have broken new ground by establishing the migrant protection commission (the forthcoming SMERU). These local initiatives need to be learned by other migrant-source regions.
However, not all local governments are ready to intervene. Although, Law No. 32/2004 sufficiently encourages them to take active roles, the majority of regional governments lack the capacity to perform additional emigration tasks.
More importantly, they lack the budget to conduct these tasks. In other words, local governments do potentially have power, but in general they still lack necessary authorities.
It is therefore about time that the new migrant workers’ law empowers local governments by giving them more authority, enhancing their capacity, and allocating for them a sufficient budget so that they can execute these tasks.
Emigration is such a complex issue that the central government alone cannot manage it. Yet, that is just fine because the central government can empower the local governments and divide the work with them.
Opini The Jakarta Pos 24 Desember 2010