Indonesia to cancel pre-departure fees for migrant workers

Migrant workers are a group that cannot be ignored in Taiwan's labor market.(photo/ Taoyuan City Government)

The National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (BNPTKI) launched an “End Illegal Manpower Agency” project on Monday, aimed at eradicating the practice of overcharging migrant workers by manpower agencies.

The project also aims at ensuring that migrant workers go working abroad at “zero cost” in the future, meaning no extra fees for training, visas and plane tickets, according to reports from Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA).

BNPTKI head Benny Rhamdani reportedly said that he will work with legal manpower agencies to share all costs resulting from overseas jobs before the migrant workers leave the country. The new policy will apply to ten different industries, including domestic workers, caregivers and fishermen.

He added that authorities are currently working on the details with foreign governments, hoping to implement the program within 6 months, while also combining governmental and private resources to crack down on illegal manpower agency networks in Indonesian villages.

In response to a question from a CNA reporter, Benny pointed out that some illegal agencies charge migrant workers as much as 40 to 60 million Indonesian rupiahs (NT$79,000 to NT$119,000) for agency fees, which would take them a long time to repay, greatly impacting their livelihood.

Ever since the “Employment Services Act” (ESA) was enacted in 1992, Taiwan has established a model for managing migrant workers through manpower agencies. As the intermediary between the migrant workers and their employers, manpower agencies often exploit migrant workers through information asymmetry.

Migrant workers who come to Taiwan through an agency system usually face exploitation in forms of referral, agency and service fees, which often take them up to one year and a half to repay and resulting in great financial pressure.

Even though migrant workers pay a fixed monthly fee to their agents, many agents do not advocate for their rights when they encounter problems in order to please the employers, leaving many of them to lament that the agents do not “serve the migrant workers” and therefore do not see the need for their existence.

Although the law offers multiple ways to hire migrant workers from abroad, the Ministry of Labor encourages employers to hire workers directly.

Still, employers prefer not to do so due to their unfamiliarity with the complicated procedures and legal issues involved in the process.

In other words, employers will most likely continue to hire workers through manpower agencies as so as long as the agency system makes it easier to do so.

In the past, many labor rights groups have called on the government to abolish the private agency system and replace it with direct government-to-government employment services in order to eradicate the problem of exploitation.

Laws and regulations regarding overseas work are different in each country and Taiwan can not do much if Indonesia requires that first-time caregivers apply to work overseas through an agency.

With the Indonesian government’s new regulations exempting migrant workers from pre-departure fees, it is expected that migrant workers’ financial burden will be reduced.

Regretfully, the new regulation will not solve the problem of exploitation that migrant workers may face once they leave the country.