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MGG: The rise and rise of the Indonesian Illegal Worker
By M.G.G. Pillai

16/11/2001 3:34 pm Fri

The Indonesian manpower and transmigration minister, Mr Jakob Nuwa, says Malaysian business men want cheap labour. Which is why Indonesians flock to Malaysia, and ready employment at less than fair rates. The law does not allow it, but this is cheerfully ignored. When the police decide to crack down, the business men shop these workers, and wash their hands off them. They are often not paid as they should, and the police are informed when they ask what they were promised. He tells only half the tale. But the risk is worth it. It is an unmentioned rule that if Malays cannot be found for menial work, muslim Malaysians and foreigners fill the jobs ahead of the non-Muslim Malaysian. This applies to every undertaking which depends on casual labour. And this daily quote is by Malays and Indonesians, and all but a handful of others.

The government would not admit it, but these illegals, from Indonesia and elsewhere are brought by syndicates with links to the National Front. Each one has a sorry tale to tell, of how the family chattel was mortgaged for one to make their lot a little better, only to end in losing every thing, in debt and without means in a foreign country illegally. The Indonesians fare better: the luckier get their stay regularised, with permanent residence or citizenship. I came across them when my wife applied for her citizenship, and one sticks in my mind: he was grumbling at how his friend became a citizen after three years of stay and he "only" had permanent residence after five years. My wife had to wait as long after she applied before she got it. The two Indonesians had special privileges denied the others, especially non-Muslim.

There is money, lots of it, to be made in this modern slave trade. The son of a former cabinet minister is a multimillionaire in his twenties by controlling the import of workers through the employment agencies his father threw his way. He drives around in cars that each cost more than a Malaysian earned in a life of back-breaking toil. The workers came from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The list changed with the official mood, and the scams involved were many. One ambassador tried with any seriousness to curtail this trade in his countrymen, but he left before he could: the powers ranged against him, in Malaysia and in Bangladesh, were too strong for him to overcome. The rules are changed so often that corruption is endemic. Only the government insists it is corruption-free, but it is the name of the game in every sphere in which the government is involved. But with each change in the regulations opens yet another avenue for corruption.

When the late Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, met the then Indonesian President Suharto in Palembang in 1975, it was agreed that 500,000 Indonesians would come to Malaysia to work in the estates and factories with a shortage of workers. The paperwork took longer than usual, only to be expected in two huge uncontrollable bureaucracies. In the interim, waves of Indonesians landed in the shores, so that when the legal ones arrived, it doubled the recent arrivals. This did not include the constant arrival of Indonesians illegally in Sabah and Sarawak.

These Indonesian immigrants, illegals and others, quickly set up roots, and quickly merge with the local Malays. They work hard and long hours, and soon became a feature in Malaysian labour. They married locally, acquired land and chattel, including Malay reservation lands, and cannot be displaced easily. The government is ambivalent, and when it talks of illegals, they do not look upon the Indonesians as one. There is a plan to send back a few thousand illegals every month, but this is more than offset by the larger number that lands on our shores. There is fear in government at what this would lead to, but it also believes it would disappear if it ignores it. But when it becomes a problem, they is a sudden outburst of anger and activity, and those caught in the sweep are sent back. Then it is back to the old ways. It is corruption the government would not crack down that fuels this modern slave traffic. Indonesia is a neighbour and the two countries often look askance at the other and is miffed and angered when the other makes a move. At no time, however, does the government address it. It is beyond that.

M.G.G. Pillai