Jakarta’s Migrant Workers Sweat to Make Rupiah Stretch

The Jakarta Globe

Jakarta. Among the millions of who flock to Jakarta in search of jobs each year, many will tell you they can subsist on minimum wage, but it’s unlikely to be any fun.

People living on slightly above or below the monthly minimum wage — to be raised to Rp 1.29 million ($143) in 2011 — have their work cut out for them.

For photographer Sugiharto, making ends meet on just Rp 1.4 million a month is a challenge.

The 35-year-old father of two, married to a public school teacher in Bekasi, said he had been trying to use his networking skills to land photography jobs, selling personalized services for customers and corporations.

Though his wife earns Rp 800,000 a month, Sugiharto says their combined income is barely sufficient.

“It’s never enough if you live in Jakarta,” he said. “We have a list of bills to pay which we struggle to meet.”

Sugiharto says his firstborn’s monthly school fees are Rp 160,000, the family’s electricity bill runs up to Rp 250,000, and around Rp 600,000 goes toward transportation. “So if I don’t look for extra income, how can I support my family properly?”

Budi Hartono, 26, who works for a cleaning service, says he continually racks up debts just to be able to support his family.

“I trust my wife to manage my monthly salary. It’s not much, just Rp 980,000. Even though we have no children, my monthly salary isn’t enough,” he said, adding his debts made him uneasy. “Early in the month, I always try to pay off my debts slowly. Only then can I think of buying luxuries like chicken, meat or fish. And all of that is just [for] the first week of the month.”

Tutut, 23, who works at a juice counter at the Plaza Semanggi mall, says she earns Rp 1.05 million a month, with half of it going to her parents and the remainder spent on commutes.

She says she looks forward to Idul Fitri, when she gets her bonus and can buy new clothes.

“It’s nothing fancy, but it’s the only time I can finally treat myself to something special,” Tutut said. “I can’t really do much with my salary as it is.

“It might not be fun to live on a small salary, but I’m so grateful to have a job and help my family,” she added.

“I just hope that when my salary increases, the living costs don’t increase as well, so I can manage my life better.”

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