The central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough. – Nicholas Kristof
A couple months back, Ken Silverstein of Harpers wrote a feature on the conditions of garment workers in Cambodia called “Shopping For Sweat: The Human Cost of a Two-Dollar T-Shirt.” It appears you can read a full version of the article online, even if you are not a subscriber to Harpers. In some ways, it might seem the article isn’t revealing must that is new about the issue of sweatshops in the garment industry, but it does offer an important reminder that the issue has not gone away just because corporations have enacted toothless codes of ethics. It also offers critiques of Cambodia’s “sweat-free” reputation and the view that sweatshop conditions are a necessary phase in a countries economic development.
Labourstart has another Southeast Asia related internet campaign, this one in support of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. By clicking here, you can send a message to the Thai government urging it to extend a Feb 28th deadline it has imposed on migrant workers, in which they must either verify their nationality or face deportation. Along with concerns over transparency and access to the national verification process for migrant workers, there are also concerns regarding the conditions workers will face upon their return to Burma.
As the message concludes:
I urge your government to extend the NV [national verification] process deadline so that all migrants are able to access the system. I also urge the RTG [Royal Thai Government] to negotiate with the government of Burma to arrange for the NV process to take place in Thailand, to protect the rights and welfare of all migrant workers. Lastly, I further request that RTG provide migrant workers with a registration system that is transparent, effective and most importantly respects the rights of all migrant workers.
[Update, 2.23.10]: You can send a similar message in support of migrant workers through the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) website.
Domestic workers rallying in front of Hotel Indonesia last year. (Photo: Yudhi Sukma Wijaya, JG)
The Jakarta Globe recently ran this article, reporting on the reactions of employers to the Jakarta Municipal Government’s plan for a minimum wage for domestic workers. The main concern expressed regarding the minimum wage regulation is the possibility that families hiring domestic workers could be priced out of hiring a maid, as well as pointing out some other forms of compensation that domestic workers receive, such a room & board.
In many ways, these are the classic arguments against minimum wage increases of any kind. In an article in The Jakarta Post on the abuse of child domestic workers, human rights activists offer a number of answers to these concerns.
- According to Human Rights Watch: “To the extent that policymakers believe that more families should be able to access assistance with domestic work or child care, then the government should instead consider pursuing alternative policies — such as affordable community child care, making workplaces more flexible for working parents, or more generous maternity and paternity leave — that do not depend on the exploitation and under payment of child workers.”
- Lita Anggraini, coordinator of the National Network for Domestic Workers Advocacy (Jala PRT): If we cannot pay the domestic worker the minimum salary, then we must fit the burden and type of job on how much we can pay…If you can only pay Rp 300,000 [per month]…then just give the worker one kind of task, like laundry — don’t also give them cooking or cleaning or the children [to look after].” Given the current shortage of domestic workers, such provisions will make it possible for a worker to earn income from multiple employers, says Lita.
- Wiwik Widyastuti, communications specialist at CARE Indonesia: “Just because someone lives at your house and you’re giving them a place to live or food to eat everyday, doesn’t mean that you can exploit them. It doesn’t mean that you own them.”
Along with these points, I wonder if the amount of the proposed minimum wage itself isn’t matched in importance by the opportunity to penetrate this informal sector with regulations of any kind, protecting even the most basic conditions for humane work. After all, according to The Jakarta Post, “One ILO survey of domestic workers in Jakarta and its outskirts found that 161 out of 173 respondents (93 percent) had experienced some form of physical abuse; 118 (68 percent) had experienced mental abuse and 73 (42 percent) indicated they suffered some form of sexual harassment or abuse.”
Protest rally by Thai railway workers
While Working Indonesia tries to keep the focus specifically on Indonesia, I think I will start stretching the scope of the blog ever so slightly by posting occasional articles of interest from other places in Southeast Asia. The first post in this vein is an e-action from LabourStart in support of Thai railway workers. Following this link, you can send an e-mail to State Railway of Thailand expressing your support for the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT). For more information on the campaign, see below.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliate, the State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT) are demanding the Thai rail management (SRT) stop its anti-union practices and improve its industrial relationship with the union. Six union officials in the Hat Yai Branch were unfairly dismissed in October 2009 for taking part in national industrial action. Union members refused to drive unsafe trains after a fatal accident had occurred. The driver in the crash had fallen asleep on duty because he had been working for a month with only one rest day. Background to this incident are the lack of investment and a large-scale reduction of jobs in the SRT by the government.
Inside Indonesia has a review of the new volume of essays entitled Women and Work In Indonesia, edited by Michele Ford and Lyn Parker. I personally have just gotten it from the library but have not had time to read it. However, according to Teri Caraway, reviewer and scholar of the Indonesian labor movement, “No other book on women and work in Indonesia has the breadth of this volume.”
Introduction: Thinking About Indonesian Women and Work Michele Ford and Lyn Parker 1. Not your Average Housewife: Minangkabau Women Rice Farmers in West Sumatra Evelyn Blackwood 2. Keeping Rice in the Pot: Women and Work in a Transmigration Settlement Gaynor Dawson 3. Dukun and Bidan: The Work of Traditional and Government Midwives in Southeast Sulawesi Simone Alesich 4. Poverty, Opportunity and Purity in Paradise: Women Working in Lombok’s Tourist Hotels Linda Rae Bennett 5. Industrial Workers in Transition: Women’s Experiences of Factory Work in Tangerang Nicholaas Warouw 6. Bodies in Contest: Gender Difference and Equity in a Coal Mine Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt and Kathryn Robinson 7. Meanings of Work for Female Media and Communication Workers Pam Nilan and Prahastiwi Utari 8. Makkunrai Passimokolo’: Bugis Migrant Women Workers in Malaysia Nurul Ilmi Idrus 9. Making the Best of What You’ve Got: Sex Work and Class Mobility in the Riau Islands Michele Ford and Lenore Lyons 10. Straddling Worlds: Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore Rosslyn von der Borch
On Wednesday, hundreds of domestic workers (PRT) staged a rally in Yogyakarta, organized by the Congress of Yogyakarta Domestic Workers Organizations (Konres Operata Yogyakarta – KOY) and Rumpun Tjoet Njak Dien (RTND). At issue is the status of domestic workers as formal, rather than informal, workers, as the Jakarta Post explains:
The three-point article, among others, stipulated that a working contract could be made between an employer and his/her domestic worker. It also mandated the Yogyakarta mayor to prepare a separate bylaw on domestic workers. Although no obligations were mentioned in the article regarding a compulsory working contract, the article was considered to be a big step in which domestic workers, or PRT as they are locally known, have already been officially acknowledged as formal workers. “As far as we know, it was the first regional bylaw in the country that ever mentioned and thus acknowledged the status of domestic helpers as workers,” Buyung said. Unfortunately, Buyung added, the article lasted only for about six months as Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X issued the decree on Dec. 14, 2009, stating that PRTs were part of the informal sector and therefore should not be included in the bylaw on manpower.
Five hundred contract workers protested outside the main gate of the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, demanding that PT Jakarta International Container Terminal (JICT) make them permanent employees. From The Jakarta Post:
“We have been working at the firm’s main division for 15 to 20 years, but we have yet to be made permanent employees,” Sutimanto, chairman of the JICT contract worker association, said as quoted by kompas.com. “The labor law bans a company from using contract workers at its main division.” He added a contract workers only earned Rp 1.3 million (US$140) a month, far below a permanent worker who could earn a salary of Rp 13 million a month.
I don’t have much information on organizations specifically focusing on contract workers. If anyone has relevant links or articles, feel free to post them.