Asia Minute: Indonesia: Work Local, Speak Local

Jul 2, 2018

Jakarta during monthly Car Free Day, on the last Sunday every month. The Thamrin and Sudirman avenue from National Monument to Senayan area is closed from cars and any motorized vehicles from 6 AM to 12 AM, except for TransJakarta Bus Rapid Transit system.
Credit Gunawan Kartapranata / Wikimedia Commons

The Trump Administration is reviewing rules about foreign investment in the United States. But it’s not the only government taking a closer look at how foreign businesses operate in other countries. And last week, that sparked some confusion in Indonesia.

The news last week was surprising to some: expatriate executives working in Indonesia would have to speak the local language. The New York Times headlined its story saying “Indonesia’s Order to Foreign Workers: Learn the Language.”

It’s been a sensitive issue for years.

Back in 2015, the Jakarta Globe reported a draft regulation under consideration would have required any foreigner to master the language Bahasa Indonesia before a work permit would even be issued.

Many Indonesians are multi-lingual. According to the government’s count, the Island archipelago includes more than 700 indigenous local languages — from Javanese to Balinese and Acehnese.

Indonesians wanting to work in places like the United States or Australia often need to pass certain English language tests. But the move for mastery of Bahasa Indonesia scared a number of overseas companies — from technology firms to banks.

Jakarta, 2012
Credit Muhammad Rasyid Prabowo / Flickr

Late last week, The Jakarta Post quoted a presidential spokesman as saying there won’t be any tests after all — just education.

The new regulation will require employers to provide foreign workers with Indonesian language training.

As for further details, that language is still being drafted. . .presumably before it gets translated.