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Covert Assimilation Attempts in Rejection of Foreign Workers

Ditulis tanggal 31 Oktober 2010

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Foreign workers in the Olympic Stadium of Beijing (Picture source: Dominic Luedin)

Indonesia was revealed to be permeated by foreign workers. Rapid foreign workers’ flows eventually resulted in negative public reaction. Various elements of groups, ranging from religious mass organizations to the labor elements collectively demonstrated in front of offices of Department of Manpower and Transmigration, as well as Immigration offices.

Most monumental demonstration conducted by the Sukabumi community. The protest was covered by a number of senior media, both online and print media. One of the protesters brought poster attribute voicing rejection of foreign workers’ presences.

The question is, was the proposed substance of protest acceptable? Well, not necessarily.

The prohibition may be detrimental to the Indonesian economy. Use of foreign workers by domestic companies is actually permitted by the Law of Manpower, followed by its derivative rules such as Presidential Decree No. 72 / 2014 and Ministerial Regulation No. 16 /2015.

In the above-mentioned rules, it has been stipulated that under certain conditions, foreigners have “quotas” to earn fortunes on Indonesian soil.

Thera are four categories of works that can be assigned to foreign workers, namely: (a) the Board of Directors, members of the Board of Commissioners or members of the Board of Trustees, and members of Supervisors; (b) Urgent and critical works; (c) Temporary works; and (d) Impresario service businesses.

For point (a), I think it is already clear enough and does not need to be explained. As for point (b), definition of “urgent and critical” is situations of natural disaster, force majeure, and damage to machines or production tools.

Meanwhile, for point (c), i.e. temporary works, meaning works that include guidance in application and innovation of industrial technology, commercial filmmaking, giving lecture, conducting audit, installing machinery, and others. Finally, regarding the impresario service businesses in point (d), they are generally filled with foreign workers who work as Karaoke Guides.

The protesters said that some of underlying motivations in encouraging government to tighten foreign workers’ flows are high unemployment rate and termination of employment.

In fact, the issues of high unemployment and layoff do not necessarily have direct causal relationship with the current foreign worker’s phenomenon. It is also not necessarily true that all jobs can be filled by foreign workers. Again, foreign workers fill positions of directors, mentors, assistances related to machinery and entertainment businesses.

Why the rules enacted, because fact shows that there are positions that have not been able to be filled yet by Indonesian citizens, especially jobs in realm of technology, in which foreigners are more experienced in the field because they experienced it first.

Being familiar with technology, they become experts on it. That is why, they were brought in across the sea to inherit knowledge they possess through various forms of guidance programs.

Another common reason for protesters in refusing foreign workers is that to date, foreign workers employed in Indonesia cannot speak Indonesian. Previously, there was a rule which required foreign workers able to speak Indonesian, but then the rule was lifted to show investor-friendly image of Indonesia.

Come to think of it, we should not regret government’s decision to refrain from the rule. We must remember, Indonesia already bound itself into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This means, Indonesia, directly or indirectly, agreed to bear the consequences that follow, namely use of English as a mandatory language of the AEC.

Of course, the consequence was carefully considered. Data on level of Indonesian citizens’ educations could be traced, which essentially indicated that the citizens had a booming number of bachelor’s graduates, much better than some other ASEAN countries. So, we can actually yield it. With such level of education, Indonesians are able to speak English.

Rather than deplore the government’s decision, I deeply regret the substance of the protest delivered by protesters. What the protesters demanded, ranging from tightening foreign workers’ flows to the mandatory use of Indonesian language are merely assimilation attempts.

By using restriction, separating Indonesian citizens and foreigners, especially bringing up their races, and imposing use of Indonesian language, the protesters were trying to shed identities and attributes attached to the foreign workers. Especially in relation to the use of language, they indirectly prohibited foreigners using their own languages.

It is worth noting that discrimination by protesters only applied to foreign workers. According to the Presidential Decree No. 72 /2014, the definition of foreign worker is “Foreign visa holder with intention to work in territory of Indonesia.” Students and tourists are not among targets of the protesters, because they have no intention to work in our homeland.

This raises my horror when considering dark history of Indonesia which once discriminated another race. Previously, discrimination had taken place during President Soeharto’s order. The second President of Indonesia was applying assimilation in various forms.

President Soeharto’s first policy was to distinguish indigenous people from non-indigenous ones. Chinese descendants were treated like strangers, even though their ancestors had lived and settled in Indonesia for a very long time.

The rest were discriminatory policies such as closure of Chinese newspapers, prohibition of Chinese socio-political organizations and renaming policy. All were President Soeharto’s efforts to make Chinese descendants forgot their origins.

It is clear that the protesters did not want to re-read the Law of Manpower, the Presidential Decree and the Ministerial Regulation that regulate use of foreign workers. Or maybe they already knew it all, but they just did not want to know. Unemployment and layoff issues were considered sufficient to justify waiving of such legal rules.

Whether or not protesters’ demands will be granted, it must be remembered, social media is being flooded with anti-China campaigns, whether they target people from the People’s Republic of China or citizens of Chinese descendants.

We should also remember, in the Governor of Jakarta Special Capital Region’s inaugural address few days ago, Anies Baswedan raised issue of foreign colonization and used “indigenous” terminology to dramatize his speech.

What is clear, if the demands will come into force, foreign workers can be expelled from the archipelago. Before that, it is necessary to revise the Law, Presidential Decree and Ministerial Regulation first on use of foreign workers. I hope that does not need to happen. Be bright without having to make others look dark.
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