Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Excitement of a Migrant Worker

Excitement is contagious. That's why I caught one from Roni Pasla in the Jakarta airport this afternoon.

Roni just returned from a one-year contract as a ship crew for an oil field off the shores of Kuwait. He's originally from Batam, and currently working for Siemens off the shores of Sumatra. His contract in the middle east is also as the company's employee.

To get this job, he first attended the BPLP Semarang school for sailors. He just took the "basic" course for about a month, which awarded him a certificate to be qualified for the job. The program costs about Rp 800k (~90 USD). Then he had to pay a "broker" a one-time fee of 300 USD, which is OK since his job in the middle east pays 300 USD a month.

Roni came home happy and excited, full of optimism and pride. He shows off his English, and boasted how he learned that from zero in only a year. He said, at the arrival hall, an officer thought he was a "TKI" (low-skill, low-wage Indonesian migrant worker), and almost forced him to go to a counter where he's sure he'd get robbed of his hard-earned money. But proudly he said, "I'm a Siemens employee. Here's my documents. And the officer apologized."

On another note, my sister told me this morning that she's invited to a discussion on a possible free-trade agreement between Indonesia and the U.S. Here's what I said:
I'd support it ONLY on one condition: that the agreement would allow Indonesia to export what it can produce best: cheap labor. And please, no discrimination on people with Muslim names, and Pesantren (Muslim boarding school) background.
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  1. Aw. Mul. Not 'cheap labour' =).

    Well, economically and analogically speaking, because silicones are abundant, it's ok to waste them - thus the price of computer chip, which build using silicone, is cheap.

    Then came your 'cheap labour' thingy. So I guess since we have too many people, it's ok to waste them as cheap labour. Hmm, sound reasonable tho...

  2. Mul,
    The gains of trade comes from imports, not exports. So, the ability to export shouldn't be the only reason to support potentially cheaper imports.

  3. Indonesia needs to export workers with value, certainly not USD 300 per month, I wonder how much Siemens were making on that deal? If India can export workers in the technical and computing trades at dayrates of USD 100-300, then there is no reason that Indonesia cannot, worthwhile EDUCATION AND TRAINING are the keys.

  4. Hi Boy,
    Labor is a factor of production, just like capital. An ability to procure a factor of production cheaply is nothing to be ashamed of :)

    Of course, this is given that such labor is "educated" and "trained", as Richard said.

    In my mind, gains come from both import AND export. By importing, we can buy something cheaper than our own ability to make it. But without exporting, where would we get the money to import in the first place? Isn't this like an individual selling/exporting his skills, and getting money to buy/import his needs?