The Jakarta Post Commentary: Japan Only Concerns To Get Cheap Indonesian Nurses?


When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hosts bilateral talks with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday the two leaders are expected to evaluate the progress of the Indonesia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to which they committed when they met in Tokyo in November 2006.

The atmosphere and nature of the relations between the two countries at that time were quite different from those of today. Now Japan’s economy remains sluggish while China continues to “bully” its former colonial master, and Japan has a greater feeling that it needs more friends in Southeast Asia, despite Tokyo having frequently taken this region for granted in the past.

In economic terms, the prime minister is correct when he points to the rise in Japanese direct foreign investment in Indonesia, thanks to Indonesia’s thriving domestic market and its people’s rapidly growing purchasing power. The rising tension between Japan and China — many Japanese companies are relocating from China because of rampant anti Japanese sentiment there — is also among the key factors behind the robust investment growth.

As with all previous visits by Japanese leaders, Abe will very likely come up with an offer worth billions of dollars to finance infrastructure projects or other lucrative financial aid.

The prime minister will probably raise the issues of China and security in the South China Sea. The prime minister will undoubtedly smile when the President expresses a “deep understanding” of Japan’s position and of course a strong signal that Indonesia “ will move closer to Japan than China”.

Hopefully the President will also raise a much smaller issue in terms of money — but very meaningful in terms of people-to-people relations and of importance to our job seekers — during their summit.

I hope the President will say something along these lines; “Your Excellency thank you for opening your labor market to our nurses as we discussed during our meeting at your office in 2006.”

Abe’s face may redden, because he knows the result has been very disappointing from an Indonesian perspective but he does not need to make a lengthy defensive statement because SBY knows very well that Japan is very reluctant to accept migrant workers.

Since 2008, Indonesia has sent hundreds of nurses and caregivers to Japan, but most of them have just become cheap menial workers taking care of elderly patients.

Very few of them have been accepted as permanent nursing staff because the process is are so complicated that even many Japanese acknowledge the requirements are very difficult to fulfill.

In 2006 the two leaders said in their joint press statement, “Both sides will establish a scheme of acceptance for nurses and careworkers […] will promote related cooperation and will favorably consider widening the scope of ‘Industrial Training and Technical Internship Programs’.”

Officials of the two countries at that time boasted that Japan would open wide its doors to Indonesian nurses and caregivers and would become a model for labor recruitment in the future.

They argued that the new labor agreement was totally different from previous schemes, which allowed Japan to import cheap unskilled workers from Indonesia and other Asian countries under the guise of “trainee programs”.

Many nurses and health workers dreamed that they could earn decent yen salaries and that they would have the opportunity to become a permanent employee in Japan. But what have been the results?

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 5, 2012), out of 104 health workers who sat the nursing license examinations only 15 passed, the failures were due mainly to the Japanese-language proficiency test. In 2009 (year of their arrival) , only two out of 173 succeeded, while in 2010 all 39 nurses failed. The Japan Times reported that in 2011, just 15 of 285 Indonesians passed the exam.

Japan can provide any kind of pretexts, but it is very clear the import of nurses is simply to get cheap, loyal and temporary nurses to do simple tasks like bathing patients, but not more meaningful medical procedures.

Abe needs to address the nurse recruitment situation more rigorously by creating a more amenable environment for Indonesian nurses.

As long as Japan only seeks to import cheap workers from Indonesia to be sent back home without the possibility of becoming permanent employees, it will be very hard for the people at grassroots level to believe that Japan is sincere in its claims of friendship with our country.

Meanwhile, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ placed a half-page recruitment advertisement in a national newspaper on Saturday. “Challenge yourself, challenge the world”.

It is very rare for a Japanese bank operating in Indonesia to launch such a big effort to find the best of Indonesian youth to become — in my understanding — employees of the bank.

With few exceptions — Toyota is truly rare — there is a strong perception among the Indonesian public that Japanese companies provide little opportunity for non-Japanese staff to achieve maximum promotion; a middle-ranking career is the best most can aspire to.

The bank has sent a good message to Indonesian workers, and the prime minister needs to take similar resolute action.

Welcome to Jakarta Prime Minister Abe, sorry about the floods you will have to endure during your two-day stay here.


Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

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