Indonesia, Malaysia still at odds over migrant labour recruitment

Malaysia relies on millions of foreign workers, who mainly come from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal, to fill factory and plantation jobs shunned by locals.

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

The Jakarta Post


Migrant workers plow on a vegetable farm in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia's Pahang state on July 7, 2021. (Agence France-Press/Mohd Rasfan)

July 22, 2022

JAKARTA – Indonesia has pushed back against the suggestion that its debate with neighboring Malaysia on migrant labor recruitment has been resolved, with an official saying that a temporary ban on sending workers there would be upheld. The government last week stopped sending Indonesian migrant workers to Malaysia after it was revealed that the recipient country was recruiting laborers outside of the One Channel System that was agreed upon in a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MoU) in April. But Malaysia’s Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said on Tuesday that “we agreed to integrate the existing system” after a recent discussion with Indonesia, noting that there was no requirement in the MoU to scrap the Maid Online System (SMO) Malaysia was using to source domestic helpers, The Star reported. But the Indonesian side insists the discussion was informal and that the final decision would remain with Jakarta, as it did not agree to integrating the SMO, said Judha Nugraha, the Foreign Ministry’s citizen protection director. The SMO has been linked to allegations of trafficking and forced labor. It currently allows Indonesian migrant workers to come to Malaysia with a tourist visa, thus circumventing the Indonesian recruitment system. “The Indonesian government has never expressed an agreement to integrate the One Channel System recruitment mechanism, as previously agreed in the MoU, with the SMO,” the official told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday evening. Any integration of systems should remain within the confines of the MoU, he insisted, although Malaysia was free to use another existing system as long as it adhered to the bilateral agreement.​​

He also reiterated that the temporary ban still stood. Judha said Indonesia objected to the use of the SMO because it could render the agreed mechanism ineffective and breached Article 3 and Appendix C of the MoU, which stipulates that domestic migrant workers from Indonesia would be recruited only through the One Channel System. He argued that applying the SMO to Indonesian laborers would also set them aside from protection clauses stipulated in the MoU, putting them at risk of exploitation. “The Indonesian government encourages a bilateral meeting to be held soon to find a solution,” Judha said. On April 1, Indonesian Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah and her Malaysian counterpart inked a highly-anticipated worker-recruitment deal, renewing an agreement that had lapsed in 2016 and was not renewed at the time due to differences in migrant labor requirements. Malaysia relies on millions of foreign workers, who mainly come from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nepal, to fill factory and plantation jobs shunned by locals. Indonesia typically sends hundreds of domestic migrant workers there every year, but has slowly changed tack after strengthening its labor protection laws in 2017.

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