Indonesia inks deal to protect its Gulf workers

Government ratifies UN Convention to offer more protection to citizens working abroad

Members of Migrant Care Indonesia hold banners that read, 'Saudi Arabia : Criminal on Humanity' during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Members of Migrant Care Indonesia hold banners that read, 'Saudi Arabia : Criminal on Humanity' during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy. (Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Indonesia's parliament has ratified a UN convention on the protection of migrant workers in a move that will offer greater rights to hundreds of thousands of Indonesians working in the Gulf region.

Indonesian migrant workers are concentrated in low-paying, poorly regulated sectors such as domestic work, agriculture, and construction in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

Indonesian migrant workers are typically maids in neighbouring Asian countries or in the Middle East, where domestic workers often have little legal protection.

The government placed a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia last June after an Indonesian maid was beheaded after being convicted of killing her Saudi employer.

On Thursday, the Indonesian parliament adopted the international treaty without reservations in a plenary session.

The move was supported by US-based Human Rights Watch.

“The Indonesian government should keep up the momentum by moving quickly to revise Law 39 to comply with the protections in the Migrant Workers Convention,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“It should incorporate human rights protections at every stage of migration and improve cooperation with other governments so that there can be real improvements in the lives of migrant workers.”

Migrants’ rights groups in Indonesia have campaigned for the government to ratify the convention since its adoption in 1990.

It claimed in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, migrant domestic workers often work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. Many are not paid; some are confined, beaten, or raped by their employers.

“The Indonesian government has stepped up its reform efforts, but many Indonesian migrant workers continue to be cheated by recruiters, exploited by employers, and neglected by the government authorities who are supposed to protect them,” said Hidayah.

“The government has now taken an important step toward the comprehensive changes that could really make a difference in migrants’ lives, and the challenge for them will be to follow through on the commitments they are making today.”

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