The Indonesian Ministry of Manpower’s decision to approve the permit of 500 Chinese citizens to work in Southeast Sulawesi has sparked a furore among the public in the past week.
Many questioned if it is the right time to hire foreign workers amid COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Director-General of Binapenta and PKK of the Ministry of Manpower Aris Wahyudi, their employers — PT Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry (VDNI) dan PT Obsidian Stainless Steel — have tried to recruit local workers.
However, no one is willing to work in remote locations or have the right qualifications for the job.
“They have tried to employ the workers in Indonesia, but no one wants to work [for them] because of the location and difficulty to meet the number of workers and required qualification,” Mr Wahyudi told Kompas.com on Saturday (2 May).
The new foreign workers will replace hundreds of foreign workers in both companies whose employment contracts have expired, on top of being a move to facilitate business continuity during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
The approval of their working permit, he added, was in tandem with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights’ Regulation Number 11 of 2020 concerning temporary prohibitions of entry into Indonesia for foreigners in response to COVID-19 outbreak.
Article 3 Point (1) of the said law stipulates that foreigners who will work for a national strategic project are not prohibited from entering Indonesia during COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Wahyudi added that the foreign workers are estimated to arrive in the regency of Konawe in Southeast Sulawesi around June or July instead of 22 April.
Previously, it was reported that the local government where both companies are located have issued their objections on the Ministry of Manpower’s approval to bring in hundreds of foreign workers from China on 22 April 2020.
The head of Konawe regency in Southeast Sulawesi, Regent Kery Saiful Konggoasa, in an episode of the tvOne Talkshow on 28 April that his objection against the Ministry’s approval was based on not wanting to trigger a social upheaval in the community.
It was reported that a demonstration has occurred in his administration in March when PT VDNI brought in 49 Chinese workers into the city of Morosi in Konawe Regency.
This action has led the local police to ensure that the Chinese workers are quarantined according to the regulation.
The same statement also came from the Governor of Southeast Sulawesi, Ali Mazi, when Zonasultra.com met him in his gubernatorial house on 26 April.
He said that prior to voicing their objection, he has discussed the matter with the local administration’s head forum, parliament, police, as well as immigration.
“How would it be possible [to bring in 500 foreign workers]. We were intractable [when settling the problem] with the previous 49 Chinese workers. Also, we should conduct a quarantine according to the regulation.
“It is not the right time to bring in foreign workers from China when the community is dealing with coronavirus,” said Mr Mazi.
Separately, the President of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI) Said Iqbal was also reported to have raised his objections.
He opined that employing 500 foreign workers from China will hurt Indonesian workers and provoke a sense of injustice among them.
“Emergency layoffs have happened in front of us. But the jobs are given to foreign workers.
“Moreover, it is saddening to see that the government has not shown any serious effort to prevent the layoffs,” said Mr Iqbal in a written statement on Monday (4 May).
Separately, Centre of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia reported on 27 April that the estimated unemployment number in Indonesia may increase by 4.25 million people in Q2 of 2020.
It also predicted that if the pandemic continues longer than expected, the increasing number of unemployment may skyrocket by 9.35 million people nationwide.