Addressing the challenges migrant workers face during the pandemic: a joint effort by Justice Without Borders and KITA Institute Wonosobo

April 23, 2021
Category: Press Release

In light of the pandemic, the closure of borders in several countries has further isolated many migrant domestic workers (MDWs) who were already extremely vulnerable. Due to the COVID-19 virus and tightened measures they have to quarantine in an isolation ward upon their arrival home. In response to these many prevailing issues, Justice Without Borders and KITA Institute Wonosobo launched a forum discussing the challenges faced by migrant workers and ways to provide aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jakarta: Tuesday, 20 April 2021

The unjust reality faced by Indonesian MDWs during the COVID-19 pandemic was the impetus for Justice Without Borders (JWB) and KITA Institute to jointly host this dialogue session entitled: “Tackling legal issues faced by Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic “. This forum was led by Vivi Octavia, JWB’s legal officer, and moderated by Nia from KITA Institute Wonosobo. The forum was held over Zoom and saw over 50 participants.

Septy Putri Erika Nugroho, from Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia (The Indonesian Women’s Coalition) East Java branch, was the first speaker during the forum. Septy shared that during this pandemic, the wellbeing of Indonesian migrant workers is all the more at risk. Migrant domestic workers, in particular, are especially vulnerable as they are more likely to face issues like gender-based violence, salary reductions, the reduction (or total elimination) of off days which ultimately minimises their opportunities for healthy social interaction, and overall increased workload. It is imperative to consider that during a pandemic, when they’re made to stay at home (their employer’s place of residence) they are not provided the same liberty as their employers to do as they wish. They are also more likely to be mistreated when they’re stuck at home.

This forum was also attended by Freddy Panggabean, the Interim Deputy Director for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Asia and Africa from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Protection Agency (BP2MI) who fervently agreed with Septy. He chimed in, shedding light on the difficulties faced by these workers in finding jobs overseas due to increasingly tight travel and labour regulations. Overall, the lives of migrant workers have been severely impacted and constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many workers experience neglect in their country of placement and are unable to return to their homeland due to travel restrictions and regional lockdowns. They also face a loss in livelihood as the companies they work in may have shut down and/or employers are unable to pay them their salaries.

BP2MI plays an important role in these operations by identifying and following up on migrant worker-related cases. BP2MI also helps to verify the statuses of Indonesian citizens that have been referred to them and are active in carrying out mediation efforts to effectively resolve these cases.

Within the area of Wonosobo, the Department of Manpower, Industry and Transmigration (Disnakertrans) has launched the One-Stop Integration Service, an information-providing system that helps tackle the problems faced by Indonesian MDWs within an efficient and effective system. Kristiyanto, the head of Disnakertrans, asserts that since 2008, Wonosobo is one of the areas that provides the largest numbers of Indonesian MDWs. According to Article 30 of the Indonesian constitution, Indonesian migrant workers do not need to pay for their placement fees, job certifications and/or any form of training.

However, Kristiyanto states that, as of now, the Wonosobo government is unable to attend the forum, but will attend future dialogues discussing their strategy plan in the future. Throughout the pandemic, policies put forth by the central Indonesian government should be obeyed by regional governments, including that of Wonosobo. Therefore, when COVID-19 was at its peak, the Manpower and Transmigration Office in Wonosobo immediately began supplying large quantities of masks to their denizens who were about to leave to work abroad. However, as the virus continued to ramp up, many placement countries began restricting their inflows of MDWs, preventing many Wonosobo denizens from leaving to work. The surplus of masks were donated to those in need instead.

It is imperative to remember that the issues faced by MDWs do not necessarily end once they return to their home countries. Salsa, the Head of Office at JWB Indonesia, believes that attaining fair compensation for migrant workers is possible through effective cross-border litigation, to ensure that migrant workers who have returned to Indonesia can still claim their rights. Salsa also asserts that COVID-19 has made MDWs more vulnerable to exploitation and violence. When an MDW experiences exploitation and violence, it invariably impacts her family and community, reinforcing the all the more pertinent need to fight for migrant workers’ access to justice during a pandemic. Salsa also shared about the challenges that crop up when attempting to resolve such cases during the pandemic, namely: having to keep up with the fast pace at which regulations change in Indonesia, the rapidly increasing number of inquiries from the Indonesian MDW community and difficulties in gathering evidence for court attendance. In order to tackle these challenges posed during COVID-19, there is a need to strengthen inter-network ties and coordination flows between frontline organisations and related stakeholders.

This dialogue session ended with a dynamic question-and-answer session. The participants were extremely enthusiastic, lobbing questions back and forth, and the various speakers responded with equal zeal, encouraging participants to attend future sessions and ask questions then as well.

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