Indonesia halts Taiwan university internship programme amid allegations of forced labour

JAKARTA - Indonesia is freezing recruitment for a university internship programme in Taiwan, pending an investigation into allegations that hundreds of Indonesian students involved in the scheme were forced to work long hours in factories.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said recruitment will be stopped "until an agreement on better management is reached".

The Indonesian Economic and Trade Office (KDEI) in Taiwan has asked for clarification, and will work with local authorities to take a closer look at the study-internship scheme at eight universities, he said.

It has also asked that the Taiwanese authorities take the necessary steps to protect the welfare of Indonesian students.

Taiwan’s education ministry was reported by Reuters as saying in a statement on Thursday (Jan 3) the media reports were not accurate and that it found no violations of local labour laws after speaking to the students. If any illegal practice was found in any school, the ministry would suspend the programmes there, it added.

Taiwanese media last week reported that hundreds of students from abroad had been forced to work in factories. Opposition Kuomintang legislator Ko Chih-en claimed on Dec 27 that these students worked four days a week at factories, packing and labelling 30,000 contact lenses in 10-hour shifts. They were allowed one day of rest and two days of classes.

Among them, he alleged, were 300 Indonesian students below the age of 20, who were enrolled at Hsing Wu University and fed meals that included pork chops, despite most of the students being Muslim.

The university, through a statement translated into Bahasa Indonesia, denied forcing Indonesian students to work in factories.

The statement obtained by The Jakarta Post, said students were allowed to work no more than 20 hours per week, in accordance with labour guidelines.

"The students have never been exploited, and it does not make sense for them to put out 30,000 labels 10 hours a day," it said.

"All (work) is recorded in an attendance report and backed by salary slips received during work."

About 6,000 Indonesians are currently studying in Taiwanese universities. Of these, about 1,000 are enrolled in the study-internship scheme.