Story
22 Apr 2022
By: Josephine Imelda
Bariyah, Migrant Workers and Activist

Bariyah is a woman who actively works to defend Indonesian migrant workers. Starting as an innocent woman with minimal information regarding migration abroad, Bariyah reached out to the world to try luck for a better life. Unknowingly, the series of events she experienced would shape her into a strong woman who currently and continuously voices the rights of migrant workers who are vulnerable to injustices.

Young and Creative

Iyah, as she is known, was born in Kebumen, Central Java. She is the 2nd of 7 children and was raised by her parents, who are farmers.

When growing up, one of Iyah's wishes was to get a job to ease the burden on her parents. Hence, when the opportunity came, Iyah, still in SMK (Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan, or Vocational High School), immediately decided to register as a prospective Indonesian migrant worker. "This was a good opportunity, and I did not want to miss it because soon, I would finish my education at a vocational high school. And besides, I received the information about this job from my school teacher; therefore, I felt that this information was valid and could be accounted for," said Iyah.

The process of recruiting Indonesian migrant workers abroad took place in Yogyakarta. Along with her school friends, she carefully went through the whole process. "The process was straightforward and not difficult", explained Iyah.

However, it is undeniable that Iyah found several irregularities in the recruitment process, such as the age stated in the travel document – ​​this was done so that the prospective workers met the working-age standard in the destination country. In addition, the PJTKI (Perusahaan Jasa Tenaga Kerja Indonesia or Indonesian Employment Service Company) in Yogyakarta did not explain to her things related to introducing the destination country's culture; besides, they did not provide her with any language training and even withheld her vocational diploma. "My diploma could only be taken back if my work contract had expired", she said. Nevertheless, as a young girl, Iyah did not dare to question further. Instead, she chose to remain silent and follow the applicable procedures.

Overseas placement

When she arrived in the destination country, Iyah worked as a contract employee in a manufacturing company located on the city's outskirts. As a result, she lived in a simple flat that she shared with 12 friends.

Iyah stated that her earnings were cut for ten months by 60 per cent, and she also had to pay a placement fee of 7.5 million Indonesian rupiahs (520$ USD). Iyah said that every month, someone was assigned by the PJTKI to come to the flat where Iyah lived and collected deposits from Iyah and her friends. Instead of saving, Iyah's remaining salary was only enough to live her life.

In early 2009, Iyah received shocking news from Indonesia, saying that her school teacher had been arrested for falsifying migrant worker documents. Iyah admitted that her school sent students out of the country every year for work. "At my school, there was a special job fair; indeed, every year, there was recruitment for students who wanted to work abroad", she said. However, Iyah firmly said that educational institutions should not be involved in externally recruiting migrant workers. As an educational institution, a school can only provide information about job vacancies for students in need.

The bad news didn't stop there. Entering the 14th month abroad, Iyah was summoned by the Management of the office where she worked. Without further ado, the Management gave her an ultimatum, saying that Iyah's work contract had to end. The reason was that the company suffered a significant loss, and Iyah was only provided with a plane ticket to return to Indonesia and an upfront salary for two months of work. Meanwhile, Iyah's contract period was still ten months away. During that time, the company carried out mass layoffs. More than 1000 migrant workers were affected by this incident.

Returning Homeland

In 2009, Iyah and 130 friends from Kebumen returned to Indonesia feeling disappointed. They thought they were not treated fairly by the company, and there was no defence from the PJTKI regarding the case of employment termination. Therefore, upon her return to Kebumen, Iyah mobilised her friends to try to get monetary compensation for the termination of work, this time managed by a private insurance company in Indonesia.

"Indonesian migrant workers must be registered with an Indonesian private insurance agency called Proteksi" – this is also regulated in the Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Regulation No. 23 of 2008 Chapter II Article 4 concerning types of insurance programs for Indonesian migrant workers, including the risk of being laid off before the end of the employment agreement, explained Iyah to IOM.

However, the insurance claim process did not run smoothly. It took a year of struggle and time to get the economic compensation that had to be given to them.

"In the end, insurance only wanted to disburse 40 per cent of the funds we should have received; the insurance company explained that an economic shock caused the mass layoffs experienced by Iyah and her friends from Kebumen, so the insurance company could not issue a full compensation", added Iyah.

Fresh Insights

During the advocacy process with the insurance company, Iyah had the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds. As a result, Iya’s voice and the ones of other migrant workers had attracted the attention of various migrant worker assistance organisations, such as the Migrant Care organisation.

"Although my friends and I had to go through a long-winding journey, our struggle was supported by organisations such as Migrant Care. I also received free assistance from the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute during the advocacy and negotiation process. This experience made me realise the importance of education, information, literacy, and connecting with the proper networking for migrant workers: especially women," said Iyah.

"Not necessarily all struggles are based on the amount of compensation to be received;

but rather so that cases of exploitation will no longer be repeated and experienced

by female migrant workers in the future.

However, if this happens again, then women migrant workers will know

the steps that must be taken," said Iyah.

Cases of violence against female migrant workers

Iyah admits that she has honed her skills in such a way - through direct experience in the field and her active involvement in organisations that work specifically on migrant issues. Therefore, when in 2012, Iyah was offered a position as an advocacy staff – she gladly accepted the job.

Iyah is often involved in handling cases of women migrant workers. One of the cases that Iyah advocated for and still sticks in her memory is the case of a female Indonesian migrant worker from Blitar who worked in Saudi Arabia. This woman had lost contact with her husband for eight years. The female migrant worker also did not receive a salary and was subjected to violence.

When Iyah was asked to be involved in this case, a search was immediately carried out through social media and migrants' work networks spread on an international level. Eventually, this female migrant worker was rescued and returned home. "In cases of violence against women, those closest to the victim such as husbands, children, siblings, and parents are critical. Cases of violence against female migrant workers can happen to anyone who works abroad", said Iyah.

Migration and Climate Change

Iyah shared with IOM a story about a farmers' group from East Nusa Tenggara who switched professions as Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia. As a farmers' group that cultivates corn, they expect sufficient rainfalls to sustain their agricultural efforts. However, the extreme climate change and erratic rains caused prolonged crop failures. "Even if they harvest, their yields are not optimal. This is what causes them to decide to migrate to work abroad." According to Iyah, economic factors are often the main reason for most Indonesian migrant workers' decision to search for work abroad.

Safe migration tips:

1. Investigate information about opportunities to work outside – check on formal websites such as websites belonging to Government agencies or Organizations related to the migration of workers abroad.

2. The recruitment process must be in accordance with the procedure.

3. Have the courage to report anything suspicious in the migration process.

4. Build connections with fellow migrant workers abroad and also with related organizations to anticipate the worst situation.

5. Be an active Indonesian migrant worker in the migration network.

SDG 1 - No Poverty