While there have been various diplomatic skirmishes in the past year, it’s good to see that labor unions from Indonesia and Malaysia won’t be engaging in their own mini Konfrontasi. Monday The Jakarta Globe reported on a new initiative to protect migrant workers rights that is a collaboration between labor unions in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Indonesian government’s National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labor (BNP2TKI). The new initiative will be called Voluntary Services Overseas, which among other things will allow migrant workers to report labor abuses to unions in Malaysia.
By cooperating with in-country unions, the initiative attempts to tackle the problem of how migrant workers can gain political traction in countries where they don’t hold citizenship. This might suggest that the particular skills and methods of labor unions in organizing and campaigning cannot be left out of a campaign to protect migrant worker rights, where lobbying various government bodies so often leaves activists working a couple degrees away from the point of grievance. Yet, it seems the initiative is also attempting to overcome some of the those traits particular to labor unions which make it more difficult for them to take up the cause of workers who outside of their dues paying membership or who may even have short term interests that compete with their own members interests.
In fact, this kind of cooperation may point to another cause that Indonesian labor unions will have to take up, the cause of foreign workers in Indonesia. As an activist from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) explains in another JG article, one of the issues holding back the Indonesian government from signing the International Convention on Migrant Workers is that it would require Indonesia to protect migrant workers that have come to Indonesia for work. This, despite the fact that such a convention would apply to a far higher number of Indonesian migrants in other countries than foreign workers hosted by Indonesia.