Indonesia is in talks with Hong Kong over the possibility of sending skilled workers such as caregivers for the elderly and construction workers to the city.
The news comes amid the country’s plan to stop sending maids overseas by 2017.
The idea was raised at a meeting last week between Indonesian officials and Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at a time when Hong Kong is said to be considering allowing imported labour to fill shortages in some areas, including construction.
The meeting was held shortly after reports emerged of the alleged torture of domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih by her Hong Kong employer.
But Rafael Walangitan, the acting Indonesian consul general in Hong Kong who attended the meeting, said the criminal case had “no relationship at all” to the proposed changes.
“The Indonesian government is looking into how to enhance and upgrade the status of more skilled workers,” he told the South China Morning Postyesterday.
“We want to give more opportunities for higher quality overseas employment for the Indonesian people,” he added.
The country is pressing ahead with a plan to phase out the supply of domestic helpers who are categorised as unskilled.
“We have a policy [to] stop sending unskilled workers to other countries,” Rafael said.
“We are trying to find other fields that can be filled by our workers.”
Caregivers were one category raised at the meeting, which was also attended by Jumhur Hidayat, head of Indonesia’s national labour placement and protection agency.
Cheung “appreciated” the suggestion and cited Hong Kong’s increasingly ageing population, Rafael said.
The option of sending other workers, such as construction workers and drivers, would require further studies, the diplomat said.
Cheung’s bureau said skilled worker applicants would be assessed but would not be subject to nationality restrictions, as domestic helpers are.
Rafael said further discussion would focus on Hong Kong’s demands and the city government’s approval.
After this, Indonesian authorities would establish training facilities for workers.
“Hopefully, this can be very quick,” he said, adding that the scheme could include existing migrant workers.
Sringatin, a unionist for domestic helpers, said she believed skilled workers could make an average of HK$7,000 to $8,000 a month in Hong Kong, up from the minimum of HK$4,010 received by maids.
Grace Li Fai, honorary chairwoman of the Elderly Services Association, agreed there was a need for an alternative supply of caregivers, and said the Indonesians’ proposed rate looked attractive when compared with mainlanders’ current salary of about HK$10,000 a month.