indonesia plantation workers barred from departing to malaysia over visas - Indonesia plantation workers barred from departing to Malaysia over visas

JAKARTA (REUTERS) – Indonesia barred a group of its plantation workers from travelling to Malaysia because recruiters did not follow proper procedures and most of the workers did not have the right visa, the head of the country’s migrant worker protection agency said.

Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm oil producer behind Indonesia, had been set to welcome the first major batch of migrant workers since reopening borders in a boost for a sector facing a shortage of more than 100,000 workers.

The Indonesian agency, known as BP2MI, noted 125 of the 148 workers planning to travel this week did not have a visa to work in Malaysia yet, while the rest had other document issues.

“(Authorities) could not conduct the pre-departure orientation because the visa was not in accordance with the law,” BP2MI head Benny Rhamdani told a briefing on Thursday.

The agency had coordinated with Indonesia’s Labour Ministry and the ministry had asked BP2MI to conduct pre-departure orientation despite the visa problems, he said.

Whether the workers would be allowed to depart immediately after the orientation would depend on Indonesia’s immigration authorities, he said.

Benny said having proper work documents was important to help protect their rights in Malaysia, where he said a migrant workers’ protection law was “still weak.”

Indonesia and Malaysia in April signed an agreement to improve protection for domestic migrant workers following a meeting between the countries’ leaders in Jakarta.

Malaysia relies on foreign workers, who mainly come from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nepal, to fill factory and plantation jobs shunned by locals.

There have been growing concerns in recent years over the treatment of migrant workers, with seven Malaysian companies banned by the United States in the last two years over the use of what the US authorities consider “forced labour”.