Labour Watch

News and commentary on workers and the issues that affect them in Southeast Asia
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Wednesday, December 10, 2003
I've removed myself from Blogger and you can now find Asian Labour News here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Indonesia: Leave workers out of it!: "May I suggest Neil Kearney of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (Union blasts fleeing footwear companies, The Jakarta Post, Feb. 14) does his homework on the social and economic realities that exist in the places he is about to visit before embarking on a trip and talking gibberish. Workers and democracy have very little or nothing to do with the current exodus of footwear (and other) manufacturers form Indonesia. Behind this mass flight is a level of corruption that renders their business unsustainable. Logistics are a nightmare. Example: To cream even more from importers and exporters, the ministry of finance revoked the pre-shipment inspection system, exposing manufacturers to corrupt customs officials when they import raw materials, and again when they export their goods. Since Kearney seems to be knowledgeable in matters of countries investing in EPZs (Export Processing Zones) maybe someone should enlighten him that corrupt practices place these zones in Indonesia among the most expensive, albeit worst maintained, in Asia. Many investors, especially those from Korea, are backed by big corporations that have the financial clout to ride out prolonged economical downturns. They are moving out now after long, elaborate evaluations and the conclusion that Indonesia has become an impossible place to do business. Obviously, they are too polite to say so and cite other "strategic" reasons. If things were "just a little bit" normal here (there is no need for extra perks such as tax rebates), manufacturers would be able and willing to pay their workers 2.5 times the current minimum wage and still be profitable, as well as globally competitive. Unfortunately, political developments are such that real checks on corruption and a transparent economical environment will remain a wild, elusive dream for a long time to come. As far as factories taking their businesses elsewhere are concerned, the worst is yet to come."

[See Kearney's comments here].

Source: Patrick Schwarz, "Letter to the Editor: Leave workers out of it!" The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2003.

Indonesia: House backs labor export suspension: "The government's decision to temporarily stop sending workers overseas won the full support of the House of Representatives, which said the moratorium was essential so as to improve the quality of jobseekers despite the increasing demand for Indonesian workers abroad. But it has elicited skepticism from labor exporters as well as government officials because of the absence of concrete steps to improve the quality of the workers being sent overseas. ... Joko Sungkono, operations director for state-owned insurance company PT Jamsostek, expressed his deep concern over the continuing high number of lay-offs, saying the government's decision to impose a moratorium on labor exports would worsen the unemployment problem at home. He said that more than 550,000 workers were dismissed in 2002, many of whom remained jobless, while others had entered the informal sector. He explained that PT Jamsostek was paying benefits to an additional 2,000 dismissed workers every day. Under a 1997 ministerial decree, laid-off workers have a right to some Rp 2,000,000 in financial assistance to allow them to seek other jobs. Yunus Yamani, a labor observer, called on the government to stop labor exports for at least one year to make the necessary preparations for the provision of proper training and to make labor exporters more professional. "What is needed is for skilled workers and professionals to be sent overseas in order to improve Indonesia's bargaining power and foreign exchange earnings from the sector," he said, citing that the number of Indonesian workers employed overseas had reached four million but the government's earnings from the sector only amounted to US$1 billion per year."

Source: Ridwan Max Sijabat, "House backs labor export suspension," The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2003.

Indonesia: Uphill battle to uphold workers rights to association: "The International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the Indonesian government to work more seriously to uphold workers' rights to freedom of association as Indonesian workers have to face hurdles in exercising their rights. The director of the ILO office in Jakarta, Alan J. Boulton said on Wednesday that Indonesia had yet to find effective institutions and processes for the workers to promote their rights freely and without any disruption. A preliminary survey from ILO entitled Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining: A Study of Indonesian Experience 1998-2003, showed that Indonesian workers still have to endure harsh treatment when fighting for their rights. The survey shows that there have been actions taken by employers to curtail the implementation of the right to establish trade unions. The tactics used by employers include dismissal of union activists, demotion, and moving union activists to other work places. The reports also revealed that in the event of a dispute between workers and employers, the management would call in military personnel to back them up in the negotiation process, which unions see as an intimidatory practice. Another method to deter unionism is the use of criminal charges against workers involved in trade unions."

Source: M. Taufiqurrahman, "Uphill battle to uphold workers rights to association," The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2003.

Indonesia/Singapore: Singapore woman joins husband in jail for brutal death of Indonesian maid: "The wife of a Singaporean man serving an 18-year term for beating an Indonesian maid to death is to join her husband in prison for her role in the case, AFP reported. Magistrate Alvin Koh on Wednesday handed a nine-month jail term to Tan Chai Hong for her part in the torture of Muawanatul Chasanah, who died in December2001 from multiple injuries after being beaten relentlessly by Tan's husband, Ng Hua Chye. ... Muawanatul died from a ruptured stomach after being punched and kicked in the abdomen by Ng in the worst case of maid abuse in the city-state. Ng was sentenced last year to more than 18 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for his assault on the maid."

Source: "Singapore woman joins husband in jail for brutal death of Indonesian maid," The Jakarta Post, 20 February 2003.

Malaysia: US firms urge shift to services-based industries quickly: "Malaysia should shift to higher-value, services-based industries as soon as possible to counter shrinking foreign direct investment (FDI), representatives of Malaysia-based US firms said on Tuesday."

Source: "US firms urge M'sia to shift to services-based industries quickly," The Business Times, 20 February 2003.

Philippines: CalPERS gives RP time to prove Wilshire wrong: "The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) has kept the Philippines in its investment list after the National Government convinced the pension fund's board that the rating downgrade its consultant, Wilshire Consulting, gave the country was unwarranted."

Source: Jenee Grace U. Rubrico, "CalPERS gives RP time to prove Wilshire wrong," BusinessWorld, 20 February 2003.

Philippines: DoLE assists workers: "Thousands of overseas Filipino workers sought medical and welfare assistance last year, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said yesterday. In a statement, DoLE said 2,677 OFWs were given medical assistance in various Philippine Overseas Labor Offices while 3,738 OFWs were given counseling services. OFWs in the Middle East account for the bulk of migrants who were helped by deployed medical doctors and social workers. Medical assistance were given to 1,024 OFWs while counseling services were provided to 2,059 workers. Ailments covered by the Overseas Comprehensive Social Services Package include hypertension, respiratory tract infection, bronchitis and common colds."

Source: "DoLE assists workers," BusinessWorld, 20 February 2003.

Southeast Asia: Heavyweight Calpers stays out of Thai, KL markets in surprise move: "US pension fund Calpers has decided against investing in some of the world's biggest markets, including China, India, Indonesia, and Russia, and is also not returning to Malaysia and Thailand anytime soon. The Philippines, however, managed to stay on its list of approved markets, but only till its next review in 60 days. ... According to a Reuters' report, the fund, with assets worth US$133 billion, had been expected to put Thailand and Malaysia back on its approved list. But instead, it set standards above those recommended by an outside consultant."

Source: "Heavyweight Calpers stays out of Thai, KL markets in surprise move," The Business Times, 20 February 2003.

Singapore: Morale sinks as port workers await layoff details: "Morale among port workers sank further yesterday while PSA Corporation said it was not able to reveal details of its retrenchment plans. Commenting on the heightening suspense among workers uncertain about whom among them would be told to go, a PSA spokesman said: 'We empathise with our staff and understand their desire for more information. 'But until the details are finalised, we are unable to provide more information at this juncture.' ... While workers huddled together at the coffeeshops, PSA management was closeted in meetings to decide where to make the cuts. Meanwhile, the Singapore Port Workers Union (SPWU) and the Port Officers Union (POU) said they had set up committees to offer counselling and retraining, and to help those laid off find new jobs."

Source: Ahmad Osman and Sue-Ann Chia, "Morale sinks as port workers await layoff details,' The Straits Times, 20 February 2003.

Thailand: Electrolux to invest B500m in own plant: "The Swedish electrical appliance firm Electrolux AB will invest 500 million baht [US$11,659,380] in Thailand this year to set up its first wholly owned plant in Southeast Asia to produce front-loading washing machines. Electrolux last week approved the investment project, billed as the company's largest investment in Asia since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis."

Source: Sukanya Jitpleecheep, "Electrolux to invest B500m in own plant," The Bangkok Post, 20 February 2003.

Thailand: Accused officials face ouster: "A panel investigating eight current and former officials implicated in a 16-million-baht labour scam will recommend the accused be removed from their positions. ... a group of job seekers from northern provinces complained they had been cheated out for a total of 16 million baht [US$372,503] by overseas employment agency SSM Co, which had promised to find them jobs in Kuwait and Bahrain. The eight accused were former labour permanent secretary Irawat Chandraprasert; Employment Department former chief Wanchai Phadungsupalai; Employment Department former deputy chief Phusak Thammasal; former labour liaison officer Bopit Panpattama; Overseas Thai Labour Affairs Office director Vinai Luviroj; former labour adviser Pongchote Sai-ngarm; official in charge of overseas job placements Jaran Damriraktrakul; and Chiang Rai Employment Office chief Winij Niyomkul."

Source: Penchan Charoensutthipan, "Accused officials face ouster," The Bangkok Post, 20 February 2003.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Burma: Financial panic continues: "Businesses have been unable to pay staff members and laborers since private banks halted all significant withdrawals last week, as they are rumored to be facing a severe financial crisis, according to business sources in Rangoon."

Source: Taw Taw and Kyaw Zwa Moe, "Financial panic continues," The Irrawaddy, 18 February 2003.

Indonesia: 307 Lombok workers leave for Malaysia: "An Indonesian manpower recruitment agency, PT Jasatama Widya Perkasan, has sent at least 307 workers hailing from Lombok district, West Nusa Tenggara province to Malaysia."

Source: "307 Lombok workers leave for Malaysia," Antara, 18 February 2003.

Malaysia: Adopt Life-long learning, says Musa Aman: "Workers, especially civil servants need to adopt a life-long learning practice to ensure they produce quality services, said Sabah Finance Minister Datuk Musa Aman. He said they could pursue education through the distance learning programmes or off campus courses offered by local higher learning institutions."

Source: "Adopt Life-long learning, says Musa Aman," Bernama, 18 February 2003.

Malaysia: US electronics investment dives 30%: "Investment by US electronics firms in Malaysia plunged 30 per cent year-on-year in 2002 and may suffer further this year amid weak global sentiment, an industry group said yesterday."

Source: "US electronics investment in M'sia dives 30%," The Business Times, 19 February 2003.

Malaysia: Measures to overcome foreign workers' shortage in SMIs: "The Human Resources Ministry will come out with a proposal to counter the acute shortage of foreign workers needed in the small and medium-scale industries (SMIs). Its Minister, Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn, said the proposal would be submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi within two weeks. "The ministry is trying to find a suitable way of overcoming shortage of workers in the SMIs such as grocery workers, barbers, restaurant workers, flower and vegetable growers," he told a news conference after visiting the Kuala Lumpur Industrial Training Institute here. Under existing regulations, small trade operations are not allowed to employ foreign workers. Dr Fong said the ministry had met all the trade associations to listen to their views. "Indian Barbers Association, for instance, wanted to import a few hundred barbers from India as they cannot get the local barbers (while) vegetable and flower growers in Cameron Highland need about four thousand workers to operate their businesses. "We have to listen to all their views and come out with a proposal," he said."

Source: "Measures to overcome foreign workers' shortage in SMIs," Bernama, 18 February 2003.

Philippines: Foreigners mull new protest vs revised HK tax plan: "Thousands of foreign workers are planning to stage another mass rally in protest of a Hong Kong government plan to impose a new tax on domestic helpers, a spokeswoman for the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body (AMCB) said yesterday. "We will hold another protest march against the new tax levy on foreign domestic helpers this Sunday, with some 5,000 people participating," Connie Bragas-Regalado said as she led a small demonstration outside government headquarters. Ms. Bragas-Regalado said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople told the AMBC that Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa had expressed his strong commitment to the tax during a meeting between the two last week. Ms. Bragas-Regalado said the latest proposal is to levy employers HK$9,600 (US$1,232) on every standard two-year contract for domestic helpers. The amount of HK$400 would then be deducted from the HK$3,270 [sic; it should read HK$3,670] minimum monthly wage for maids. ... Ip Pui-yu, spokeswoman for the 1,100-strong Hong Kong Domestic Workers General Union called on a the government to scrap the plan, accusing it of "exploiting the poor" to reduce the territory's budget deficit."

Source: "Foreigners mull new protest vs revised HK tax plan," BusinessWorld, 19 February 2003.

Philippines: New STI venture to field IT-skilled nurses: "Philippine-based STI Education Services Group plans to send at least 300 Filipino healthcare workers in the United States through its newly established training center that aims to produce IT-skilled nurses. STI-Universal Worker, Inc. (UWI) is a joint venture between STI and Texas-based training and recruitment agency Universal Worker, Inc. The company will initially conduct review courses and training programs for nurses who wish to explore employment opportunities abroad, particularly in the US."

Source: Lawrence D. Casiraya and Cathy Rose A. Garcia, "New STI venture to field IT-skilled nurses," I.T. Matters, 19 February 2003.

Singapore: Comfort quitting 2 businesses, 50 jobs may go: "Singapore Labour Foundation-linked Comfort Group is dumping its courier and car distribution businesses - a move expected to cost 50 or more jobs - despite posting another set of glowing financial results yesterday. In an apparent review of all 'non-core' activities in light of its proposed union with bus group DelGro Corp, Comfort said it would exit the two loss-making businesses on March 30. Analysts reckon there may be more streamlining to come."

Source: Christopher Tan, "Comfort quitting 2 businesses, 50 jobs may go," The Business Times, 19 February 2003.

Singapore: 'I hate you mum, I want the maid': "Ben (not his real name) went berserk when his mother fired their maid a few months ago. Though only four, he began screaming at his mother, saying he hated her. The reason was clear enough to his mother, who did not want to be named: She had got rid of his emotional blanket. Like many children here, Ben was left primarily in the care of a maid shortly after his mother's maternity leave ended. He is still dealing with the maid's departure and wraps himself in her T-shirt when he sleeps. He is not the only child struggling to come to grips with problems that arise when maids double as mums."

Source: Krist Boo and Yanni Tan, "'I hate you mum, I want the maid', The Straits Times, 19 February 2003.

Monday, February 17, 2003
Indonesia: 180 workers return from Kuwait: "Over 180 Indonesian workers originating from the Province of West Nusatenggara (NTB) have been returned from Kuwait amidst the looming military invasion on Iraq by the United States and its allies. Head of the NTB Manpower and Transmigration Office, Sutanto, said here Monday that many Indonesian workers from areas other than NTB province had also been returned to their respective places of origin. Indonesian workers being employed in Ryadh, Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia, will not be returned home because that country is considered safe from the possible war backwash, Sutanto said after quoting some informed sources. Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia are mostly employed as driver and domestic servant, Sutanto said. He said most NTB people had been very enthusiastic to go to Saudi Arabia where they were eager to perform the haj pilgrimage while looking for jobs."

Source: "180 Indon workers return from Kuwait," Antara, 17 February 2003.

Malaysia: 68 Vietnamese workers expelled after factory brawl: "Sixty-eight Vietnamese workers have been deported from Malaysia following a brawl with Bangladeshi co-workers at a garment factory, the Vietnamese government said today."

Source: "68 Vietnamese workers expelled from M'sia after factory brawl," Malaysiakini, 17 February 2003.

Malaysia: Father and son held over rape allegation: "A father and son have been picked up by police for allegedly raping their 30-year-old Indonesian maid on several occasions. A police team from the Klang district police station arrested the two men, aged 60 and 40, from their house in Bukit Kemuning near here on Saturday after getting a phone call about the allegations. Police queried the maid who claimed that she had been raped by both father and son. The two men have been remanded for a week."

Source: "Father and son held over rape allegation," The Star, 18 February 2003.

Philippines: Lack of jobs: "Filipinos are still complaining about lack of job opportunities despite a slight economic improvement, a recent survey by the IBON Foundation revealed. Roughly 38.45% of the respondents think there are no livelihood opportunities in their areas compared to 23.57% during the second quarter of 2002, the IBON survey said. The survey is conducted quarterly by the Research and Databank Center of the IBON Foundation. The mid-year and year-end surveys are done nationwide. The latest survey was done last Jan. 6-24, 2003 with 1,381 respondents composed of workers, farmers, professionals, and students, among others."

[For the IBON survey results in full see here].

Source: "Lack of jobs," BusinessWorld, 18 February 2003.

Sinagapore: PSA Corp to let go of 800 workers: "After two nerve-racking days of waiting, employees of PSA Corporation yesterday learnt the extent of the job axe's fall - as many as 800 of them are going in a bid by the Singapore port operator to remain competitive. The across-the-board job losses represent about 14 per cent of PSA's total workforce of 5,750 in Singapore. Many workers learnt about the impending layoffs after Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong broke the news at a dialogue with union leaders on Saturday."

Source: Nicholas Fang, "PSA Corp to let go of 800 workers," The Straits Times, 18 February 2003.

Vietnam: ILO opens office: "The International Labour Organization has opened offices in Vietnam, pledging to promote industrial relations even as the country grapples with a growing number of strikes. At the opening ceremony in Hanoi, the organisation's Asia-Pacific director Yasuyuki Nodera said Vietnam's transition to a market economy meant industrial relations were of particular importance. Industrial disputes have become increasingly frequent in Vietnam as dozens of Asian sub-contractors take advantage of the country's pool of cheap labour. The country's only legal trade union, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, is under Communist Party Control, and sees itself as the bridge between employers and workers, rather than the defender of their rights."

Source: "International advocates for Vietnam's workers," ABC Radio Australia News, 18 February 2003.

Sunday, February 16, 2003
Indonesia: PT DI workers oppose massive labor dismissal: "Four thousand workers of Bandung-based aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI) went on strike on Friday to protest the company's reported plan to lay off 3,500 workers. The workers, organized by the Communication Forum for PT DI Workers (FKK), laid down their tools for two hours and picketed outside the company's front office. "We want the board of directors to explain the rumors of the mass dismissal of 3,000 workers," said FKK chairman Arif Minardi on Friday. According to Arif, the workers also sought clarification about the government's plan to reshuffle the board of directors as mentioned by State Minister of State Enterprises Laksamana Sukardi. Previous reports said the company would lay off 3,500 from the total of 9,600 workers to make the company more efficient. The plan will be discussed during the company's shareholders meeting later this month."

Source: Yuli Tri Suwarni, "PT DI workers oppose massive labor dismissal," The Jakarta Post, 17 February 2003.

Indonesia: Government stops export of informal workers: "The Indonesian government has suspended the export of migrant workers with jobs in the informal sector in all designated countries citing the workers' incompetence and language barriers. In his letter dated Feb. 10 sent to all governors, regents, mayors, the Association of Indonesian Labor Export Companies and all its members, as well as the Migrant Workers Placement Service Body, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea said the decision was made after "a thorough analysis" that the country's migrant workers for informal jobs, such as housemaids, were both unskilled and unable to master languages in the countries they were placed. "These (shortcomings) happen because most labor export firms have not provided enough job and language training before they send the workers," Jacob said in his letter. Jacob categorized informal migrant workers into housemaids, baby sitters and caregivers for the elderly. Any migrant workers who have completed all requirements for placement before Feb. 1 are exempted from the suspension, but their departure must take place before Feb. 28. There are around 4 million Indonesians working overseas, mostly in the informal sector. Indonesia has been exporting informal migrant workers to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions for decades. The manpower ministry had issued on Feb. 1 a circular to all labor export companies, ordering them to stop sending workers to the Middle East due to the escalating tension in Iraq. Jacob said in his latest letter that the country's informal migrant workers were "psychologically immature" and lacked knowledge of local cultures and conditions of their prospective work places. The minister said those problems greatly contributed to the high number of fatal accidents involving Indonesian informal migrant workers. The ministry data showed that at least 75 Indonesian housemaids had fallen to death from their employers' apartments in Singapore since 1999. "Based on these facts, the ministry has made a decision not to focus on quantity but quality of migrant workers to be sent to overseas," Jacob said. In the future, the ministry will apply a quota policy on each labor export agency, in a bid to prevent over-supply in the placement of workers overseas. Jacob said during the suspension period, all labor import companies were required to provide job and language training, as well as religious teaching appropriate for each culture. ... The ministerial decree No. 104A/2002 issued by Jacob last year makes it clear that labor export companies are not responsible for training for prospective migrant workers. Training courses are not a requirement to obtain a license to start a labor export company."

Source: "RI stops export of informal workers," The Jakarta Post, 17 February 2003.

Malaysia: Bodies of two Indon workers recovered: "Police have found the bodies of two Indonesian workers who were among seven missing after a crane collapsed onto a tugboat near Kong Kong jetty in Sungai Johor [in Johor Baru] on Saturday."

Source: "Bodies of two Indon workers recovered," The Star, 17 February 2003.

Philippines: Political will can help uplift worker productivity says Neri: "Political will, particularly on issues on non-wage concerns of the labor sector, could lead to improved worker productivity, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general Romulo L. Neri said in an interview last Friday. "We -- together with the National Wages and Productivity Commission -- are looking for ways to increase workers' productivity other than just giving higher wages," Mr. Neri told BusinessWorld. Since an increase in minimum wage for the labor sector is out of the question, the NEDA chief noted that increasing productivity may be achieved by smoothening out the cost distortions on items or activities that directly relates to a worker. "One way would be to cut down his costs of living, for example reducing his transport costs and his food costs. I suggested (to the productivity board) that we look at a coordinated strategy in terms of logistics in the food supply," Mr. Neri said."

Source: Rommer M. Balaba, "Political will can help uplift worker productivity - Neri," BusinessWorld, 17 February 2003.

Philippines: Tax on maids to hurt HK economy says Ople: "Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople warned yesterday that the proposed tax on Filipino maids in Hong Kong will further strain its economy. "The housewives of Hong Kong, liberated from household chores by their foreign maids, will have to withdraw from the work force and become a nullity again in the statistical accounts of GDP," Mr. Ople said in a commentary published yesterday. The DFA chief met with Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa in Hong Kong last Friday to appeal for the extension of the review process of the proposed economic measure. In the meeting, he told Mr. Tung that the proposed measure is 'unwise." "This will demolish (Hong Kong's) GDP and its growth rate," he said. There are 158,000 Filipino expatriates currently employed in Hong Kong."

Source: Hannah Ira V. Alcoseba, "Tax on maids to hurt HK economy - Ople," BusinessWorld, 17 February 2003.

Singapore: Kids more likely to have problems when maid plays mum: "Children whose main care-giver is the maid could face more emotional problems than other kids, say psychiatrists here. A preliminary study found that 12.5 per cent of those whose care is in the hands of the maid have emotional and conduct disorders, which include being rude and disruptive in school, defying their parents, playing truant and stealing. When parents mind the children themselves, the corresponding figure is lower, at 10 per cent. ... Singapore has one of the highest proportions of maids in the world, with one in seven homes here employing a maid. However, it is not known how many families employing the more than 140,000 maids working here leave the child to the maid as the main care-giver."

Source: Chang Ai-Lien, "Kids more likely to have problems when maid plays mum," The Straits Times, 17 February 2003.

Singapore: Tight competition at Singapore port forces layoffs: "For the first time in more than 20 years, Singapore's state-linked port operator PSA Corp. will lay off workers as competition from Malaysia and other rivals intensifies. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is also finance minister, delivered the grim news to PSA union members on Saturday, and retrenchment notices are expected to be handed out as early as Monday. The layoffs follow an announcement by PSA on Friday that it will shed its non-core business to focus on its main strengths. No estimates of the workers to be laid off were released. PSA, which operates one of the world's busiest ports, has some 6,000 employees. The last time it retrenched staff was in 1980, when 300 employees were laid off, the Sunday Times said."

Source: "Tight competition at Singapore port forces layoffs," AFP, 16 February 2003.

Singapore: Singaporeans must realise there's no such thing as iron rice bowl: DPM Lee: "Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says workers must realise there's no such thing as an iron rice bowl, especially in today's uncertain economic conditions. And the best way to safeguard jobs is to ensure business costs are kept low so as to entice investors. He said this at a dialogue session with unionists on the Economic Review Committee's report, which had recommended that restoration to the CPF contributions be deferred for two years. Despite the economic downturn, Singapore still attracted some $9 billion of investments last year. A sum, Mr Lee said, cannot be taken for granted at a time when Southeast Asia is slipping out of investors' radar screens."

Source: "Singaporeans must realise there's no such thing as iron rice bowl: DPM Lee," Channel NewsAsia, 16 February 2003.

Southeast Asia: Migrant convention not a magic solution: "Millions of Asia's migrant workers may have little to celebrate when a UN convention upholding their rights comes into force this year, judging from the poor compliance of existing international labor standards, say regional experts. Many welcome the 1990 convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families as a major step, not least because it took 12 years for it—long opposed by labor-receiving countries—to acquire the 20 ratifications it needed to come into force. East Timor was the 20th ratifying country in December. The convention is expected to come into force within the year, depending on the date the UN formally receives the country's instruments of ratification. But this new legal instrument is no magic formula for the difficulty of getting receiving countries and even sending nations to adhere to their commitments to protect the rights of migrant workers. This has been demonstrated in the way a much older labor convention to protect migrant workers—one adopted in 1947—continues to be largely ignored, D P A Naidu of the International Labor Organization (ILO) said at a Bangkok seminar on Asian migration Thursday. ... Asian migrants working across the world, according to estimates by non-government groups. At least half of the migrant workers are women, states Caridad Tharan of the Ford Foundation Philippines in a background paper for the seminar. Many are in domestic work, in the entertainment industry and also in "irregular situations". Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia top the list of nations that receive the bulk of Asian migrant workers. East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea and South-east Asian countries as Singapore and Malaysia are also a magnet for migrants."

Source: Marwaan Macan-Markar, "Migrant convention not a magic solution," The Irrawaddy, 14 February 2003.

Vietnam: Migrant workers wait on Malaysia deal: "About 200,000 Vietnamese may be sent to Malaysia to work in the areas of industry, agriculture, construction and services, according to the Department of Overseas Employment Management. Some 30,000 Vietnamese labourers are currently working in Malaysia, mostly in industry and construction. Department officials said more workers will be sent to Malaysia when the two governments sign an agreement on migrant labour."

Source: "Migrant workers wait on Malaysia deal," Kinh Te Viet Nam & The Gioi [VNA Econet], 15 February 2003.

Vietnam: Ministry targets 4.4 per cent unemployment rate: "Viet Nam will strive to reduce its unemployment rate from 6.5 per cent to 4.4 per cent in 2003, said Nguyen Thi Hang, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. Hang pointed out three major tasks for the year: alleviating poverty and hunger; skills training and job creation; and labour export to foreign markets. To attain these goals, the ministry must create jobs for 210,000 people who will reach working age, help 15,000 workers find employment and provide skills training for 225,000 labourers, as well as minimise poverty across the country."

Source: "Ministry targets 4.4 per cent unemployment rate," Nguoi Lao Dong [The Labourer], 15 February 2003.

Friday, February 14, 2003
Indonesia: Union blasts fleeing footwear companies: "Like loggers who exploit resources, lay waste to and area an then move on, many footwear companies, who for the past fifteen years, have sourced their goods in the low-wage haven of Soeharto's Indonesia, are now fleeing the country in search of a cheaper and more compliant workforce, according to a global union representing workers in the sector. Neil Kearney, secretary general of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), said as democratic unions began to emerge in Indonesia and demanded improvements in wages and working conditions, sporting goods retailers and merchandisers began to move to countries like Vietnam, with lower wages and higher productivity. "As soon as workers start demanding their rights, the jobs disappear as quickly as they came," the union leader said in a press statement issued on Thursday. Kearney alleged that despite their claims that by sourcing their goods in Indonesia they were providing jobs, generating export sales and helping to develop skills, these companies have in reality made virtually no contribution to local economic development. "The profit fallout occurs abroad and all that remains in Indonesia are the wages paid to the workers. In reality, those wages amount to less than the cost of servicing the loans Indonesia took to build the Export Processing Zones and to provide the infrastructure necessary to attract foreign investment in the first place," he said. "With managerial and often supervisory positions held by the mainly Taiwanese or Korean employers who run the plants, the skills acquired by (local) workers are minimal," Kearney speculated. "So in effect, the only legacy created by these companies is a legacy of ill health, which will last long after they have moved on. "Other developing countries should learn from Indonesia, lest they suffer the same fate," concluded Kearney. According to data from the association, some 100 shoe makers have ceased their operations during the past three years. Some 40 percent of Indonesia's footwear exports go to the U.S. market and another 33 percent to Europe, with the remainder exported to African, Middle Eastern and South American countries."

Source: "Union blasts fleeing footwear companies," The Jakarta Post, 14 February 2003.

Philippines: A ban on nurses working abroad? [Letters to the editor about the issue of doctors taking up nursing so as to work in America at much higher rates than they could earn in the Philippines as physicians].

"Since there is currently an exodus of nurses going abroad to fill a grave shortage of nurses in many developed countries, there has been a proposal that seeks to bar doctors and nurses from working overseas until they have served for at least two years in the country. This is another example of trying to solve a problem in patches instead of going about it the right way, which is usually the more difficult route. Why would you deny a person his right to work where he chooses? Why deny a person an opportunity to better his life? Besides these, what good would forcing a nurse to work in the Philippines for two years do? He would just get valuable experience, which he will take to another country anyway. Also, the Philippines is not the only country with nurses. If the Philippines cannot supply, say, the United States with the nurses they so desperately need, they will get them from other countries like India and China that also have sizable English-speaking populations. So this proposal would have only succeeded not only in robbing the Filipino nurse of a chance for a better life but also of much needed dollars that the Philippines would receive when an overseas worker sends money home. What the government should do is to launch a full-scale promotion for the study of nursing for high school graduates so that many more Filipinos would consider nursing as a career. The point is, if we could produce more than enough nursing graduates, the Philippines would be able to supply the local need for nurses as well as the foreign need for them. That way everybody will benefit. -- kakui

* * *

Nurses and doctors should stay at least five years, but only those who graduate from state universities, which are heavily subsidized by the government and therefore by the taxpayers. They should serve in rural areas. Those who graduate from private schools and pay their tuition in full without government subsidies are free to go any time. The University of the Philippines' medical student body is composed mostly of children of the well-to-do and the well-connected. True, there are those who are really poor but they are not the norm. Also, most of the medical graduates of this school end up in the land of milk and honey ... good old USA. Those who remain cluster themselves in Manila's medical centers enjoying fat professional fees. Graduates from this school should be mandated to get out of Manila and serve in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or in the Cordilleras for five years. Otherwise they should pay equivalent to double the tuition paid in the most expensive private universities. -- Yinamiran

* * *

Yinamiran, you spoke of an open secret that only few people in the Philippines dare to talk about. The University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital College of Medicine is subsidized by the government, yet many of their graduates leave the Philippines soon after graduation. In some batches, it is easy to find more than 50 percent of their students serving the United States, not the Philippines. -- PT

* * *

After more than 30 years of practicing their profession as physicians, professors, assistant medical directors, military or police doctors, some are enrolling for another two years' additional study toward a nursing degree just to land a job in the United States or Europe. Can we blame them? Can we call it degrading? Can we call it a practical economic alternative? Or can we say simply that they no longer think or trust that this country will recover again? For me it's a personal sacrifice, for the welfare of their families especially the children. Another two years of schooling with required duties in some hospitals is very traumatic. Imagine, you're a doctor (30 to 60 years old) and you have a duty in this hospital. You will go there not as a doctor but as a mere student earning credits for your subject units, and you will be supervised by a regular staff nurse of that hospital only a third of your age who will be asking you to clean the patient's body, replace the linen, remove human waste and record vital data. Then a regular resident doctor of that hospital will make the rounds and check your work, and this doctor in his late 20s happens to be your student in a medical school some 20 or 30 years ago. To regain your degraded pride you simply shut your mouth and just think of these magic words: for the love of dollars! -- ehallen

* * *

Turning to jobs that are lower than what one had trained for is not really that bad. I'd rather have that than have no job at all. This is just being practical. I admire those who showed courage and shed false pride and pretensions to face the hard realities. I do not think they did this for the love of dollars, as has been said. I would like to think that it was a matter of survival in this dog-eat-dog world. There is no easy road to prosperity without hard work, strong determination, faith in your God, and remaining true to yourself. -- cesdlrey

* * *

It is unfortunate that doctors look at a noble profession like nursing with such condescension. Even sadder is that to this day, nurses in the Philippines are still considered maids and servants of the physicians. No wonder that nurses do not like working there. Developed countries do value nurses especially more so here in the United States where they have as many, if not more, specialties than medicine. Perhaps if the Philippine medical community would look at the US model for health care, it might be able to alleviate the current plight of nurses. Nurses here complement physicians, they are not handmaidens or servants. -- jofis

Source: "A ban on nurses working abroad?" INQ7, 14-15 February 2003.

Philippines: Days of Napocor workers numbered: "The government will terminate the remaining 8,000 employees of the National Power Corp. nationwide on Feb. 28, in spite of efforts of the state power firm's two unions to obtain an injunction from the Supreme Court. ... The Napocor Employees Consolidated Union (Necu) and the Napocor Employees and Workers Union (Newu) asked the Supreme Court late last year to restrain the company from implementing a controversial table of organization (TO) that hastened its dissolution. The reorganization plan farmed out the employees to a Napocor-run Transco, a Hydroelectric Generation Division, a Thermal Generation Division, a Geothermal Generation Division and a Mindanao Generation Division. It then called for the termination of 2,370 employees throughout the country on Nov. 18, when it abolished six generation companies (gencos) and all of the firm's regional offices."

Source: Vincent Cabreza, "Days of Napocor workers numbered," INQ7, 14 February 2003.

Philippines: Empowering the Philippines' diaspora: "The signing into law on Thursday of a bill allowing the Philippines' diaspora to vote marks a significant boost to the country's millions of overseas workers. Between four and five million of the estimated 7.4 million overseas workers scattered across the globe will be eligible to vote in next year's presidential elections. As 10% of Filipinos live and work overseas, this is a landmark change in the Philippines political landscape.

Source: Bethan Jinkinson, "Empowering the Philippines' diaspora," BBC News World Edition, 13 February 2003.

Philippines: GMA signs law allowing overseas Pinoys to vote: "President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo yesterday signed into law the absentee voting bill, ending a 15-year lobby to give millions of Filipinos in other countries their right of suffrage. The legislative measure now known as Republic Act 9198 or the The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 will effectively allow close to eight million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to participate in the 2004 presidential elections. Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos said the Comelec will be needing PhP2 billion (US$37.075 million at PhP53.945=$1) to carry out the whole oversees voting and canvassing process, contrary to an earlier pronouncement that PhP1 billion will suffice. ... Mr. Abalos said some 4.5 million of 7.4 million Filipinos overseas are expected to exercise their right to vote in the coming elections. Under the law, Filipino oversees voters will be allowed to vote for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives."

Source: Karen L. Lema, "GMA signs law allowing overseas Pinoys to vote," BusinessWorld, 14-15 February 2003.

Singapore: Workers' Party member resigns from union post: "The branch chairman of a National Trades Union Congress-affiliated union has quit his post voluntarily because of his membership in the Workers' Party. Mr Melvin Tan, 29, said he left his position as he was shocked by the expulsion of opposition leader Muhamad Ali Aman, who was also branch chairman of another NTUC-affiliated union. Mr Muhamad Ali, secretary-general of the four-party Singapore Democratic Alliance, was sacked by the executive council of the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries (UWEEI) in early December. He was accused of acting against the interests of the union, which supports the long-standing ties between the NTUC and the ruling People's Action Party. Mr Tan, who disagreed with the sacking, disclosed yesterday that he resigned from his post as union branch chairman soon after Mr Muhamad Ali was forced out. 'I don't agree with the UWEEI's stand. Before I joined the WP last year, I knew about the PAP-NTUC symbiotic relationship, but not the extent to which those ties would be enforced,' he said. 'After Muhamad Ali's expulsion, I decided to resign because I did not feel comfortable staying on in my union post'."

Source: Ahmad Osman, "Workers' Party member resigns from union post," The Straits Times, 14 February 2003.

Singapore: Man jailed for helping remittance agent escape: "A man who helped crooked remittance agent Lam Chen Fong escape to Malaysia - after the latter cheated more than a thousand workers from China - was sentenced to jail for 2 1/2 years yesterday. Ivan Teo, 44, had been paid $100,000 for helping Lam. The then-unemployed man was the last of four men linked to the case to be sentenced. Lam was earlier sentenced to 22 years in jail for fleecing more than 1,000 workers of $8.8 million when he was a partner in Wen Long Money Changer in Geylang."

Source: Selina Lum, "Man jailed for helping remittance agent escape," The Straits Times, 14 February 2003.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Indonesia: Workers complain about late salaries: "Temporary staff at the Bogor regency administration are upset about late salaries. "Very often we are paid late. We haven't received our salaries yet this month. How can we meet our basic needs?" said Darman, 29, who has worked for two years for the administration. He said temporary staff at the regency's housing, planning, and urban development agencies had not been paid for the past two months. ... There are about 4,000 temporary staff employed by the regency, with salaries ranging from Rp 175,000 to Rp 250,000 (US$19 to $27) per month."

Source: "Workers complain about late salaries," The Jakarta Post, 13 February 2003.

Philippines: Hong Kong shirt company opens in Clark: "A Hong Kong-based garments factory of high-end brands Nautica, Liz Clairbourne and Ralph Lauren opened Wednesday at the Philexcel Business Park here. Smart Shirts Philippines is now the biggest among the 37 locators in the industrial estate, which include Philippine, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singaporean, South Korean, Japanese and British companies, Smart Shirts Philippines vice president for finance Jerry Rhodes said. He said Smart Shirts would produce 3.6 million shirts this year alone. The plant has hired 2,000 employees. Rhodes said the plant would produce wrinkle-free garments to be distributed in Bloomingdales, Sears and other American stores."

Source: "Hong Kong shirt company opens in Clark," INQ7, 13 February 2003.

Philippines: Labour still find it difficult to put up unions: "A stringent environment for labor unions continues in the Philippines, together with strict registration requirements, political interference or anti-union discrimination make it difficult to form independent workers' organizations, the World Bank (WB) said in a report yesterday. The report, entitled Unions and Collective Bargaining: Economic Effects in a Global Environment, noted union members and other workers covered by collective bargaining agreements get significantly higher average wages than workers who are not members of trade organizations. "Workers who belong to trade unions earn higher wages, work fewer hours, receive more training, and have longer job tenure on average, than their nonunionized counterparts," the World Bank study said. Other countries whose labor population more or less shares the same experience include Bangladesh, Taiwan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Turkey. The report likewise noted that bargaining coordination between workers' and employers' groups in wage setting and other aspects of employment are an influential determinant of labor market outcomes and macroeconomic performance."

Source: Rommer M. Balaba, "Labor in RP still find it difficult to put up unions," BusinessWorld, 13 February 2003.

Philippines: Sokor tour guides: "Immigration agents arrested yesterday 22 South Korean tour guides working without permits in the Philippines. The South Koreans were rounded up at Manila's international airport where they were supposed to fetch a group of tourists from Inchon, Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said. Local tour operators had earlier complained that some 30 South Korean-owned travel agencies were operating in Manila without permits and accreditation from the foreign office, she said. The South Koreans would be deported soon, the immigration bureau said."

Source: "Sokor tour guides," BusinessWorld, 13 February 2003.

Singapore: Moves to safeguard rights of foreign workers: "A new registration system is being put in place to combat what seems to be a rising trend of foreign construction workers being abandoned, exploited, or deployed illegally. From the start of next year, all construction firms must register with either the Building Construction Authority (BCA) or the Singapore Contractors Association Limited, before they can hire people on work permits from countries other than Malaysia. The idea is to sieve out unscrupulous employers who are likely to leave their workers in the lurch. It was announced by the Manpower Ministry and BCA on Tuesday, with other changes aimed at steering the industry towards hiring more-skilled workers, and cutting reliance on foreign labour. A ministry spokesman said there had been cases of labour agents masquerading as construction firms and recruiting foreign workers, who pay them commissions. The fly-by-night outfits then abandon the workers, or 'sell' them to others who need them. Some contractors also resort to this illegal practice when there is not enough work for their labourers. ... In December, Minister for Manpower Lee Boon Yang told Parliament that 730 employers had in the past three years been prosecuted for deploying foreign workers illegally."

Source: "Moves to safeguard rights of foreign workers," The Straits Times, 13 February 2003.

Thailand: Israel gives safety guarantee: "Israel's ambassador to Thailand has promised to ensure the safety of Thai workers in Israel if the United States goes to war against Iraq. Ambassador Gershon Zohar yesterday visited the Labour Ministry's centre to provide emergency help to labourers in the Middle East in case of war. He was briefed about evacuation plans for more than 2,000 Thais in Iraq, Kuwait and Israel."

Source: "Israel gives safety guarantee," The Bangkok Post, 13 February 2003.

Vietnam: EPZs, IPs need thousand of workers: "Enterprises in three export processing zones and ten industrial parks in HCMC are seeking more than 5,500 workers for their production in the first quarter of this year, a similar number to that of the same period last year. Employers in Tan Thuan EPZ in District 7 need some 2,000 workers, including 800 for electronic assembly and the rest for making clothes and raincoats, Nguyen Thanh Tung, deputy director of the Employment Service Center under Hepza, told the Daily yesterday. The biggest employers in the zone are the Japanese-invested company Nidec Tosok, which makes automatic gear boxes for cars, Japan's Nidec Copal, maker of components for mobile phones, and the Taiwanese-invested garment companies: Dong Binh and Dat Viet. Enterprises in Linh Trung I and II EPZs, meanwhile, need some 1,500 workers in carpentry, wool embroidery, garment and electronic production. Of which, Nissei Electric Co. of Japan will take 600 employees. Meanwhile, industrial parks want some 2,000 workers, most of them for garment and food processing companies, according to figures of Hepza, which oversees IPs and EPZs in HCMC. ... Even in areas that require manual skills only, the recruitment has become more difficult. "We have been able to provide sufficient skilled workers for the mechanical engineering industry and those for garment companies in recent years," Tung said. Tung explained more workers are not interested in the two industries as these require laborers to work overtime but the pay is not high. He said his center could only meet 50-70% of the demand of garment makers."

Source: "EPZs, IPs need thousand of workers," SGT Daily 13 February 2003.

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