AsiaViews, Edition: 35/VII/December2010
SUMIATI binti Salan Mustapa has to spend her days in room number 125, ward 1B, at the King Fahd Hospital in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The young woman from West Nusa Tenggara lies weak and exhausted in a special ward measuring 4 x 6 meters for patients suffering burn injuries after almost dying due to mistreatment by her employer.
?Her condition is good. She is conscious, and eating lots,? an Indonesian Consulate General staff member in Jeddah told Tempo on Thursday last week. ?Sumiati is already able to communicate.?
Tempo, which visited the hospital, was initially given permission by King Fahd Hospital Director Mohammad Bilal to speak with Sumiati. The meeting however was unable to go ahead after it was prohibited by an Indonesian Consulate official.
Director for the Protection of Indonesian Citizens & Indonesian Corporate Entities at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tatang B. Razaq, who has been in Medina since last week, said that Sumiati has just undergone plastic surgery to her head. The medial procedure was undertaken because the skin on her scull was peeling off due to her hair being pulled out by her employer. It is likely that Sumiati will still have to undergo several more operations. ?Because she suffered injuries to her nose, lips and ears,? he said.
The Sumiati case has caused an uproar. Last week President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dispatched a special team to Saudi Arabia led by Women?s Empowerment Minister Linda Gumelar.
Pinning her hopes on earning riyals, Sumiati arrived in Saudi Arabia on July 18 earlier this year. However after only a few weeks working as domestic helper, what she received instead was violence.
The case was reported to police by an Indonesian representative a day after Sumiati was admitted to King Fahd Hospital. ?There was a person who reported it to us,? said the head of the Indonesian Consulate General?s Indonesian Citizen Protection & Services in Jeddah, Didi Wahyudi. Sumiati was rushed to King Fahd Hospital after the first hospital where she was admitted for treatment gave up because her injuries were too serious. She was initially brought to the first hospital by her employer?s child. According to Didi, Sumiati?s employer has already been arrested. ?Her child has already given testimony that their mother did indeed mistreat her,? he said.
Sumiati?s case adds to the long list of Indonesian migrant workers that have had problems overseas. According to Migrant Care Executive Director Anis Hidayah, as of last October 6,604 cases have been recorded of Indonesian migrant workers facing problems in various countries. The largest number have been in Saudi Arabia (5,563 cases) followed by Malaysia (1,000). The majority of cases have involved migrant workers who have fallen sick while working. There have also been 1,097 cases of mistreatment and sexual violence as well as 898 cases of workers not being paid. According to Anis, the largest number of cases occurred in Saudi Arabia because it has the most Indonesian migrant workers. ?More than 1 million people,? he said.
The data released by Migrant Care however has been rejected by the Ministry of Labor & Transmigration. According to the Labor Department Director for the Migrant Worker Placement Directorate at the Labor Ministry, Ros Setyawati, as of last week there have only been 491 problematic migrant workers cases in Saudi Arabia, followed by Malaysia with 259 cases.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry concedes to confronting difficulties in dealing with Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. The Indonesian representative office has to monitor migrant workers covering an area of 2.4 million square kilometers. According to Tatang B. Razaq, this huge area can only be monitored from two places: the embassy in Riyadh and the consulate general in Jeddah.
In addition to this, the representative office is never provided with employers? addresses. Although a good single identification number system is in effect, information on individual members of the public is closely protected. ?The addresses that exist are only post boxes,? said Tatang.
The Indonesian government once tried to persuade Saudi Arabia to provide an address blueprint of employers that employ Indonesians. ?However it was also resisted,? said Tatang.
Not only that, it has been difficult to get the Saudi government to discuss a special agreement on the problem of Indonesian migrant workers. Yet several other countries have already signed memorandums of understanding (MoU) on migrant workers. They are Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Taiwan. In Taiwan an MoU was signed by the private sector because Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with the country. The other countries that will soon sign MoUs are Syria, Libya and Lebanon.
Labor & Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar has related the difficulties in inviting the Saudi government to draft an MoU. He claims to have met repeatedly with Arab Labor Department and Home Affairs Department officials and asked for an MoU to be discussed. ?Their response is just to promise that it will be considered,? he said.
At the last meeting, Muhaimin received a sharp response from a Saudi minister. ?Enough, trust in our laws, there?s no need for an MoU,? he said mimicking the minister?s response. Saudi Arabia justifies this on the grounds that it has never made such an agreement with any country.
The Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Indonesia, Abdulrahman Mohammed Amen al-Khayyat, admits that his country is not yet ready to sign an MoU. He said that there are 8 million migrant workers from various countries in Saudi Arabia. ?If one is signed with Indonesia, it is possible all of them will ask,? he said.
He asserts that his government will meet demands for the protection of Indonesian migrant workers? rights. The Arabian Advisory Board (parliament) is currently deliberating legislation on migrant workers. ?Including domestic workers,? Abdulrahman added. On the question of information transparency regarding employers, he said that would also be difficult to fulfill. ?If there?s a problem, just report it to the police,? he said. The police will definitely deal with it, as in the case of Sumiati.
The chaos surrounding Indonesian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, according to Migrant Care, is not just about the government?s reluctance to sign an MoU. The group also draws attention to the weak protection for domestic workers at home. Indonesia still does not have a law on domestic workers. ?How can [the government] pressure Saudi Arabia if we also don?t have a domestic workers law,? said Anis Hidayah.
An Indonesian diplomat in Saudi Arabia also complained about the issue. ?It?s like we are being told to clean up the rubbish from Jakarta,? they said. They drew attention to Law No. 39/2004 on Labor, which states that Indonesian workers must be placed in countries that protect migrant workers and that have an MoU. ?The reality of what?s happening is the reverse,? said the diplomat. ?Our government is violating its own laws.?
The Ministry of Labor believes that the problems also come from migrant worker recruitment agencies. Ros Setyawati related how when their team carried out a snap inspection at a migrant worker recruitment reception center in the Condet area of East Jakarta last week, the owner of the reception center tried to obstruct the government team. After the prospective workers met with government representatives, ?They broke down in tears and said that they didn?t want to work overseas,? said Ros. ?So there are definitely problems with the recruitment process.?
By: Purwani Diyah Prabandari (Jakarta) and H.M. Taufiq
Tempo No. 14/XI/ 01-07 December 2010