Moch Fiqih Prawira Adjie, Jakarta – The central government has defended the employment of some 500 Chinese workers to work on nickel smelter projects in South Konawe regency, Southeast Sulawesi, following protests staged by residents arguing that many domestic workers had been laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah said the employment of foreign workers was only allowed for national strategic projects (PSN) requiring technologies that local workers had yet to master.
"There are indeed national strategic projects that require workers in certain positions that cannot yet be filled by Indonesian workers," Ida told reporters on Friday.
"There will, however, be a transfer of knowledge and the employment [of foreign workers] will be limited [in time]. Once the knowledge has been transferred, they will go back to their country and the projects will be fully carried out by domestic workers." she continued, adding that local workers would be assigned to accompany the foreign ones.
In February, the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) announced 41 national strategic projects planned for the next four years, ranging from revamping 10 "priority" tourist destinations to establishing the country's new capital city in Kalimantan.
Ida pointed out that employing foreign workers for strategic plans, and allowing their entry into Indonesia, was an exception permitted by Law and Human Right Ministerial Regulation No. 11/2020, which regulates temporary prohibition of foreigners visiting the country amid the pandemic.
Under the regulation, the foreign workers would have to follow strict health protocols, including a 14-day quarantine in their home country and an additional 14-day quarantine in Indonesia.
Ida argued that allowing foreign employment would eventually result in more jobs for local workers after they learned to use the technology used in the projects. "We felt the need to open [foreign employment] since we saw severe layoffs [due to pandemic]."
As of May 27, more than 1.79 million people had lost their jobs as many nonessential businesses shut down to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, according to data from the Manpower Ministry.
Bappenas predicted that some 5.5 million people may lose their jobs this year, possibly pushing the unemployment rate to between 8.1 and 9.2 percent, up from 5.28 percent last year.
On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters, including a Southeast Sulawesi Legislative Council (DPRD) member, marched near Haluoleo Airport in South Konawe to voice their rejection of the arrival of 152 workers from China.
Around 348 more Chinese workers are expected to come soon.
The protesters rejected the foreign workers as they argued that many South Sulawesi residents were still out of a job.
"We should not be guests in our own country, many local workers want to work, but there are a lot of requirements. There are so many excuses. Just say you don't want to give us jobs," councilor Sudirman said during the protest as quoted by kompas.com.
The Chinese workers were hired by Chinese-backed mining company PT Virtue Dragon Nickel Industry (VDNI) and PT Obsidian Stainless Steel (OSS) to install 33 pieces of smelter equipment belonging to PT OSS in the province.
The VDNI management said they were "experts" who had acquired the Foreign Workers Use Plan (RPTKA) from the Manpower Ministry.