Exploited Indonesian seafarers are victims of weak law

Indonesian seafarers continued to be the subject of unfair work practice on foreign boats.

In order to protect the welfare and rights of its hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, including fishing crew on foreign vessels,  Indonesia ratified the Law on the Protection of Migrant Workers in 2017. However, a lack of enforcement is hindering the Law from serving its purpose.  By Diana M, Indonesia correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

In 2020, a worrying number of Indonesian seafarers continued to be the subject of unfair work practice on foreign boats. From January to December, the Fishers Center received 40 reports on cases which involved 103 seafarers. 

Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, which manages the Center, revealed that the majority (64.32 percent) of the reports were cases that happened abroad. Spokesman for DFW, Moh. Abdi Suhufan, said this indicated how vulnerable Indonesia’s migrant workers are to unjust treatment and abuse.

Among some of the most reported issues were reduced and unpaid salaries as well as poor health and safety procedures.

The protection of seafarers abroad, classified as migrant workers, was mentioned in Law No. 18 of 2017. Article 64 in the Law stated, “Further provisions regarding the placement and protection of seafarers and fishermen . . . are regulated by Government Regulation.” 

However, it has been almost four years since the Law passed, and the mandated government regulation has not been issued. Even though the draft has been submitted to the State Secretariat, it remains unclear when the public will finally see its enactment.

Law alone is not enough

With the derivative regulations still pretty much nonexistent, several issues related to the protection of Indonesian seafarers abroad continue to arise. One of the biggest issues is the so-called “sectoral ego” between concerning ministries. 

While the Law on the Protection of Migrant Workers mandated the authority on placement and protection to the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries have their own regulations related to the protection of seafarers abroad as well.

This has been creating an unnecessary and avoidable complexity on theoretical and practical levels, which does nothing to the effort of protecting Indonesian seafarers from mistreatment and abuse.

Another pressing problem, which is still related to the previous point, is the lack of an integrated database. Without the government having clear and complete information about seafarers abroad, it can become almost impossible to offer and provide assistance and protection. 

Besides close coordination among relevant ministries and state agencies, working with private entities might be a step to consider if the government wants to build a comprehensive database. 

In their letter to President Joko Widodo in December 2020, DFW suggested this recommendation, urging the Indonesian government to “work with associations, manning agents, and other related parties” to collect data on Indonesian seafarers working on foreign boats.

When issued, the regulation is also expected to lay out and affirm the government’s plan to improve the competencies of migrant workers prior to placement. 

Minister of Manpower Ida Fauziyah said in September 2020 that enhanced competencies can provide Indonesian migrant workers with a certain level of bargaining power. This, she said, is part of the government’s commitment to provide protection.

The problem with manning agent

Last but not least, solely having the Law is not sufficient to prevent the activities of illegal manning agent. According to SAFE Seas Project, there are still dozens of manning agents in Indonesia who continue to operate and send Indonesian seafarers to foreign boats without actually having a business license.

Again, Minister Fauziyah cited overlapping authority among ministries and state agencies as the culprit. The Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Transportation oversees respective unit that has the authority to issue license to manning agents. 

However, she said there had been cases where local government can issue such license. With this not done through one door, Fauziyah admitted it had been difficult for the government to track and monitor the existence of these illegal manning agents, let alone to act up on their illegal activities.

Wait and see

Ideally, the government regulation should be able to solve or, at the very least, minimize all of the persisting problems. It should also help the government to more rigorously protect the welfare and dignity of Indonesia’s seafarers. 

With the regulation providing more detailed guidance for relevant ministries and state agencies, the protection of and assistance for seafarers should not be hindered by the rather ancient problem of overlapping authority, among others.

However, DFW coordinator Suhufan reminded that even though the government regulation is necessary, it will not single-handedly solve all problems. How the relevant parties decide to act upon the problems will be key.

“This could be one of the solutions, depending on how coordinated the relevant ministries act,” Suhufan said.

And while the Covid-19 pandemic rages on and aggravates the livelihood and work condition of seafarers, the pressure is on the Indonesian government to act quickly with the draft and enforce the Law. It has been years, and Indonesian seafarers deserve some help for a change.

Image credit: Nanang amiruddin / Shutterstock.com

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Diana M

Diana M

Diana M, our Indonesia correspondent, is based in Jakarta. She is a former reporter from The Jakarta Globe. Through her writings, she hopes to bring awareness to important maritime security and trade issues.

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