Labor Day: Workers Can’t Afford to Quit Despite Complaints

The Jakarta Globe

Mulyadi is 25, but he’s lost count of how many times in the past three years he has switched factories. 

He works in one for a few months before moving to another, all within Jakarta’s massive Kawasan Berikat Nusantara industrial estate in the Cakung-Cilincing area. 

Thousands of contract factory workers are employed at the KBN in any given year. Some of those workers have worked within the KBN for more than a decade, despite regulations aimed to prevent it. 

“I work mostly for garment factories. The money’s the same everywhere at KBN. I earn Rp 1.38 million [$160] per month,” Mulyadi told the Jakarta Globe. 

“Why do I move around? Not by choice, I can tell you. They’ll just give me a three-month contract or a six-month contract. That’s a lot pressure for us [to turn down the offer], because we know how hard it is to get jobs nowadays,” he said on Friday, two days before May Day demonstrations are expected to hit the capital’s streets. 

“What all of us here at the KBN are most concerned about, though, is unpaid overtime hours. We have to meet the production target, which is quite high. The target depends on company regulations and the type of clothes produced. Sometimes some of us don’t get paid overtime, but we cannot afford to leave.” 

Mulyadi said he would not be among the thousands expected to protest on Sunday. Instead, he said he would join demonstrations on Monday — the details of which were unclear — since Sunday was his day off. 

A Jakarta legal aid group said in February that it received almost 200 labor complaints last year that pointed to the uphill battle workers continued to face in claiming their legal rights. 

Muhammad Isnur of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) said labor disputes over the lack of insurance, wrongful termination, problematic contracts and outsourcing led to 191 complaints being filed by more than 3,000 workers in 2010. 

“We received complaints about unlawful dismissals, [wage] payments being put on hold and the status of contract workers,” Isnur said. 

According to the 2003 Labor Law, a person can only be employed as a contract worker for two years, with a one-year extension option. Contract workers, he said, are not entitled to receive benefits such as raises, with many being paid less than the standard minimum wage (UMP). 

“A [permanent] worker’s rights include a health insurance scheme, a pension fund, leave, overtime and being paid in accordance with the UMP,” he said. 

The 2011 UMP for Jakarta is Rp 1.29 million per month, a 15.8 percent increase from last year. Labor unions, however, have said the figure is too low. They cite the Reasonable Living Cost Index (KHL), which has been set at Rp 1.4 million per month. 

Laborers at the KBN said their daily problems were usually quite simple, but they still remained unresolved. 

Yana, a 32-year-old mother of two, said her major problem at the garment factory was that the model for the clothes was too complicated at times, and that workers could not go home until all the day’s work was finished. 

“Our main problem is the high production target. Every garment model is different. We could produce, for instance, 200 pieces in an hour or 400 pieces in an hour. It depends on the make of the clothes. We hate that pressure. We have to finish in eight hours of work, or work overtime until we finish, before we can go home,” Yana told the Globe. 

Etty, 27, said she had worked at the KBN since 1999, and she knew that many of the factories there did not pay for menstrual leave. “Every month, the law requires that all female workers are given two days of paid menstrual leave. The company should pay us as much as Rp 92,000 for this leave, but it doesn’t. We lose money like this, but not everybody realizes that,” Etty said. 

“Aside from the short-term contracts and unpaid overtime hours, we have many other concerns. However, we are actually quite afraid to join the [May Day] rally. We do not want to lose our jobs.” 

A male worker who refused to give his name said he would likely not join in the demonstrations on either Sunday or Monday because he was not a member of a labor union. 

“Unless we join a labor union, we do not know what it is we are going to rally for. Most of the time these rallies are organized by labor unions, but our company does not have a labor union,” the worker said. 

Budi Wardoyo, secretary general for the Indonesian Labor Movement Association (PPBI), said 100,000 workers were expected to join Sunday’s May Day demonstrations. 

He said the rally would start at 9 a.m. at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle. From there, demonstrators would march toward the Presidential Palace.

One thought on “Labor Day: Workers Can’t Afford to Quit Despite Complaints

  1. Dear Elizabeth,

    I'm an editor with Singapore-based regional online magazine
    I came across your blog and am writing to ask if it will be possible for us to re-publish your posts from your wordpress/blogspot on our website. We will of course keep your name in the by line and include a link to your blog or website.

    For starters, we'd like to republish this story. Since it is timely, it'd be great to get back to us in time so we can republish it for our Wednesday alert. is scouring the web for blogs that are published, not just by journalists, but by Asians
    and people in Asia who have an interesting opinion and story to tell.

    The rights of the stories we republish will remain yours of course. Though we might do some minor editing, we will not change the content or style of the authors writing.

    Please let me know if you're keen to be a part of our group of writers! We certainly are keen to include you on our platform for Asian voices.

    Thanks Elizabeth. Feel free to shout if you have any questions.

    Debby Ng
    Pictures Editor

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