KL and Jakarta plan labour pact

Accord aimed at containing future spats over Indonesian illegals; Manila to send Ramos to ensure smooth deportations.

BOTH Indonesia and Malaysia are drawing up a ‘comprehensive agreement’ over foreign labour, a move that could contain future spats between the two countries over the hiring, treatment and deportation of illegal Indonesian workers.

Separately, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo said yesterday that she was sending one of her predecessors, Mr Fidel Ramos, to Malaysia for talks on the alleged mistreatment of illegal Filipino immigrants in Sabah.

Mrs Arroyo said she wanted him to discuss with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Chief Minister of Sabah, ways to ensure the ‘remaining deportations and voluntary returns will be much, much smoother’.

In Jakarta, officials were working behind the scenes to draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would include a clear set of guidelines on handling Indonesian workers in Malaysia, a thorny issue that has long dogged bilateral relations.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa told The Straits Times that officials from both countries would be meeting next month to iron out problems and discuss key points in a draft MOU.

He disclosed that the idea for an agreement was first raised at a meeting between President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Dr Mahathir in Bali earlier this month.

Given the problems that have arisen during the past week over the deportation of illegal Indonesian workers, the two countries – especially Indonesia – have felt the need to expedite discussions.

In explaining the need for an MOU, Mr Marty said: ‘Rather than having constant ups and downs, we believe that a proper agreement will take care of all the loose ends.’

He said that the agreement would address specifically recruitment procedures, the rights of workers, and the responsibilities of both migrant labourers and employers in Malaysia.

Analysts said that the MOU was aimed principally at preempting the problem of illegal workers. It was possible, however, that Indonesia and Malaysia would want to spell out in the agreement how the deportation of illegal workers should be dealt with if the problem were to arise again.

Jakarta’s plan to draft an agreement takes place against a backdrop of criticism in the country – especially from legislators – of Malaysia’s deportation of Indonesian illegal workers.

But senior government officials – including President Megawati and her deputy Hamzah Haz – appeared inclined to tone down the issue and resolve matters through diplomatic channels.

Indonesia has a vested interest in maintaining good ties so that Malaysia can continue to offer jobs to thousands of unemployed Indonesians.

The view from Kuala Lumpur appears to be no different, especially on the matter of inking a pact on labour.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told The Straits Times yesterday: ‘Now, we are ready to sign the MOU.’

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