Hendarsyah Tarmizi, The Jakarta Post, Seoul
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to overcome problems faced by Indonesian migrant workers by providing a better recruitment process and forging better cooperation with destination countries.
Addressing a meeting predominately attended by migrant workers at the Indonesian embassy in Seoul on Tuesday, the President defended his administration's policies regarding labor problems.
Yudhoyono said many problems still existed involving Indonesian workers overseas, but stressed that criticism against the government's handling of labor issues was often exaggerated.
"There are many problems during the recruitment and employment of migrant workers overseas. But only a few of them have been ill treated or abused," he said.
The President said that in addition to improving the recruitment process, his administration would continue to monitor the conditions of workers through Indonesian embassies. The administration also plans to take a government-to-government approach in dealing with migrant labor problems.
"During a recent meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, I expressed concern over the fact Indonesian workers in that country have often been treated as second class residents. He (Badawi) agreed, and promised to settle the problem," Yudhoyono said in response to a question raised by a young Indonesian worker.
The worker said a change in the recruitment process for Indonesian workers in South Korea had significantly improved working conditions.
"But in the absence of a recruitment company, workers no longer have a place to report their concerns, especially if there is a problem with their employer," he said.
Since the beginning of this year, the recruitment of Indonesian workers in South Korea has been handled by a recruitment agency under the Indonesian Labor Ministry as part of a bilateral agreement signed by Yudhoyono and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun during the latter's visit to Jakarta last December.
The South Korean government also introduced early this year an employment permit scheme, which allows Indonesian migrant workers to work in the country for up to five years from a previous three years.
There are at least 30,000 Indonesian citizens currently living in South Korea, about 28,000 of whom are working for industrial companies.
Workers are paid an average of US$1,000 monthly, a much higher salary compared to that received by Indonesian migrant workers in other countries.