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Bali Leaders Missing the Boat in Poverty Eradication

Editorial: Plans to Reduce Bali Poverty Through Cruise Ship Employment Threatened by Illegal Fees and Levies

(11/18/2012) Shocked at the ethnic violence suffered by Balinese migrants in South Sumatra, the municipal government of Bali’s capital city Denpasar has declared that transmigration programs have been ended in favor of job training and poverty eradication programs.

Among the programs identified as having great potential to break the chain of poverty in Bali is the education of young Balinese for positions in the worldwide cruise industry. As explained by Made Erwin Suradarma, Denpasar's chief of the Manpower, Transmigration and Social Work Department, by training young, poor Balinese for jobs in the cruise industry these workers gain valuable life experience and accumulate sums of capital that will help their families escape poverty.

Such a strategy for reducing poverty in Bali is a good fit. Balinese workers are eagerly sought by international cruise ship operations where they are known for their ability to live in a multi-cultural environment, their strong work ethic, an eagerness to learn and relatively high foreign language capabilities. As a result, numerous recruitment and training centers sponsored by major cruise operators can now be found in Bali.

Earlier this year, recognizing the potential of the cruise industry to help improve the economic lot of the Balinese, Bali’s governor Made Mangku Pastika spotlighted the cruise industry as an effective way to improve the education of young Balinese and create high-paid employment opportunities. The Governor even proposed the government should pay the cost of training and travel for new cruise workers to help stimulate employment in this sector.

Governor Pastika underlined the untapped potential for employment for young Balinese in the international cruise industry, saying Bali was only supplying a fraction of the total number of Balinese cruise workers sought by cruise operators.

While it is refreshing to see Bali’s leaders identifying strategic employemnt and poverty eradication opportunities, any plan to optimize employment opportunities in the cruise industry will sadly be defeated, at least in part, by the chronic plague of corruption and the deplorable tendency in these parts to opportunistically prey on the poor.

Despite laws outlawing the practice and international cruise operators denial of any participation, the simple fact of remains that young Balinese seeking jobs on cruise ships are obliged to pay substantial “informal” training fees to Bali-based cruise ship recruitment agencies over and above the fees already paid by the cruise operators to the local recruitment firms. These fees, stricty illegal under Indonesian law, can be equal betwen 2 to 5 months salary, equalling as much as one-third of salary the cruise worker will earn in the course of a single work contract.

Sekali Merdeka, Tetap Merdeka!

While the Indonesian national motto since Indepence was won in1945 is "Sekali Merdeka, Tetap Merdeka" (Once Free, Foreover Free), exceptions to that high ideal are allowed in order to facilitate enforced servitude when it comes to working on a foreign cruise ship.

Condemning this practice, the president of the Indonesian Seamen’s Association (KPI), Hanafi Rustadi said the fees paid to job brokers and seagoing recruitment agencies for Indonesian cruise workers can range form US$4,200 - US$5,265. Hanafi claimed that Indonesia enjoys an unenviable reputation worldwide as a heaven for job brokers preying on job seekers. Said Hanafi: “the fees charged by recruitment agencies are never handled in a transparent manner. Candidate seaman who are charged “training fees” seldom receive receipts and the training provided is cursory.”

Bali Officals Urged to Act 

We urge the Governor, regencies and metropolitan administrations in Bali to become a combined force for good and join forces to eliminate these illegal fees. It remains an open secret that such fees, charged to candidate cruise ship workers, remain, with few notable exceptions, the unfortunate “norm” in Bali.  

Such steps to erradicate this practice, if undertaken with courage and determination, would be seen as “leadership” on the part of the island's leaders and heartily welcomed by the general public.

Cruise Operators Must Share the Responsibility

We also call on all cruise operators hiring Balinese crew to undertake comprehensive audits of their employment policies and procedures in Bali, including in camera interviews with their Balinese crew to ensure the hiring process is free of illegal levies and fees. Such steps would go a long way to end such practices and eliminate lingering fears that the cruise ship operators themselves are colluding to get a share of these reprehensible fees paid with the sweat and toil of the Island’s youth.

At the very least, if the cruise operators earnestly took steps to root out these fees they would obtain  employees selected solely on the basis of professional merit. Both you crew members and the passengers they serve on board your ships deserve no less.

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