COVID-19 COLLATERAL DAMAGE

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Illustration by: Agung Wahyudi/IO

The Darkest day of May Day and the story of workers, as the death toll reach the hundreds, unemployment hits the millions

IO – The May Day event this year can be said to be the darkest day in the history of workers. How can this be so? The Covid-19 pandemic has exploded into a multidimensional crisis. A health emergency that has simultaneously struck while an economic emergency was predictably unfolding. As a result, many companies have been threatened with collapse, so their only hope for survival, the best choice to save the company, is by laying off its employees. 

Based on the latest data from the Ministry of Manpower the number of workers / laborers / workers that have been suspended or laid off has now reached 1,506,713. As many as 1.24 million of these workers are from the formal sector, representing 51,565 companies, while 265,881 workers are from the informal sector. The number of workers suspended reached 1,080,765, from 27,340 companies. Meanwhile, those who were laid off numbered 160,067 workers from 24,225 companies. 

Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani Indrawati also admitted that Indonesia’s economy, afflicted with COVID-19, could see an increase in the number of newly-unemployed people in Indonesia. She estimated the worst-case scenario would be an additional 5.2 million new unemployed, an increase reflected in poor overall economic growth. In the scenario of the primary macroeconomic indicators this year, Indonesian economic growth will only be around 2.35%, based on a poor forecast this year. But in a much worse scenario, the Indonesian economy in 2020 could go into a negative -0.4%. 

Mayday demands
Said Iqbal, President of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI), stated the biggest demand of the workers on the May Day event this year is first to reject the Omnibus Law on Employment Creation. The government finally decided that the discussion on the Omnibus Law Bill was to be postponed. “The results of the meeting with President Jokowi: we appreciate and thank President Jokowi in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic for being quick to respond to this situation by delaying the discussion of the Omnibus Law Employment Creation Bill on Employment of labor clusters, especially in the House of Representatives (DPR). We thus have enough time to reframe our discussion of the employment cluster which concerns all stakeholders, such as trade unions, the Indonesian Employers’ Association (APINDO), the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) and the government. But further, after such a postponement, we hope that the government will drop the Omnibus Law Bill on Employment of labor clusters, then reopen discussion with the involvement of stakeholders,” he explained. Second, stop layoffs. Third, save the lives of workers currently working in factories by applying a temporary emergency holiday for workers, receiving full wages and full Benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Regarding the wave of layoffs, Said accused naughty entrepreneurs of having the ability to pay full wages and THR, but they’re reporting to the government in droves so that workers get pre-work card funding. These business owners simply want to get out of this situation so that they do not have to pay full benefits and severance pay if workers are laid off. 

According to Said, the government must map people who were laid off into two categories. The first is the tourism industry sector and its derivatives and MSMEs – such as hotels, restaurants, travel agents, airlines, culinary, souvenir shops. The layoffs in the tourism sector and MSMEs are, in truth, the most of any sector, around 80%, even long before the Covid-19 pandemic was announced by the government. The second category is the manufacturing sector, both labor-intensive and capital-intensive. In this sector there are indeed workers who have been laid off or whose contracts have simply expired and are not being renewed, such as in the textile industry, garment, electronic components and other manufacturing sectors. “By looking at these two categories, entrepreneurs should not make the Covid-19 pandemic a scapegoat so they could avoid the responsibility to pay fair wages or provide benefits for workers,” he declared. 

In line with Said’s statement, Mirah Sumirat, President of the Indonesian Trade Union Association (ASPEK) said in the framework of May Day, there were several demands. The first is to urge the government to stop discussing the Omnibus Law Employment Creation Bill. From the start, we considered that this Omnibus Law Employment Creation Bill was legally flawed, because stakeholders, in this case being the labor representatives, were not involved in the discussion before the bill entered the House of Representatives (DPR). “We ask that the discussion be repeated from the beginning or from zero again by involving stakeholders related to labor representatives,” said Mirah. 

Secondly, we ask President Jokowi’s government to provide jobs according to campaign promises. The workers understand that this pandemic is a difficult time, but the government is obliged to provide employment for its people. Third, we hope that social security will be accelerated for the affected communities of Covid-19 and regulations regarding pre-employment cards are regulated not only for the benefit of a few parties. 

Suggestions for the Government 
In difficult times, several suggestions were offered by Said to the government. First, the government issues subsidies for the people, preferably in the form of cash, and not in the form of retraining, such as on pre-employment cards. When workers are laid off they need cash, not training. In addition to cash, BLT (direct cash assistance) in the form of basic needs is also needed. It is more effective and it is needed. The budget is to be increased if possible. Second is to stop the discussion of the Omnibus Law on Employment Creation, not only delaying it but also to revising it. This is so that the DPR will focus on assisting the government in saving the lives of the people, including workers who are still working in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and the DPR must also focus on layoff emergencies because millions of workers are threatened with layoffs. Third, upper middle-class entrepreneurs must show empathy; these entrepreneurs must still have cash reserves to be able to pay full Benefits and wages and severance, so that the purchasing power of workers can be maintained. 

According to Mirah, the concrete steps to face this difficult time must actually start from the government itself. Government officials must start tightening their belts (such as cutting their own salaries) to donate to the people affected by this pandemic. In addition, the government should review and re-evaluate less important posts in the state budget so that they could cut those out, given the state of emergency. The government must also collaborate with big businessmen who have received many benefits from the management of natural resources in this country. The government must also be truly selective in distributing aid according to its portion, lest those who do not have the right actually get funds. For this reason, the task force team needs to monitor it. We also hope that the regulation regarding pre-employment cards is reviewed: it should be given in the form of direct cash assistance to the community. 

“My hope for the state is in accordance with Article 27 paragraphs 1 and 2 of the 1945 Constitution, where the state must be present for its people. The government must respond more quickly and focus on handling the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy so that many do not fall victims. The state must also think about the informal community or day laborers in current conditions,” Mirah explained. The state is obliged to help the community so that the workers can rise up in this emergency situation. 

Ending talks with the Independent Observer, both Said and Mirah said there was no action on May Day because workers followed the government’s call for physical distancing and implemented work from home. 

In these difficult times, there are many workers who were laid off. Some cried, disappointed, sad, but many also got insights from this difficult situation. Next is the story of the workers who were laid off and trying to rise from this difficult time. 

Hani, laid off after 11 years of work,
“As the backbone of my family, I can’t be a crybaby” 

That afternoon, the weather in the South Tangerang area was raining heavily, even so, Hani was excited to tell us her life story. How could that be? After working for 11 years, she must accept a bitter decision, as she was dismissed from her job. To the Independent Observer, this woman from Betawi told us her story. “I worked starting from 2009 and in February 2020 I was laid off,” said the woman born on April 12, 1977. 

As told by Hani, when she started working, she was given a wage of IDR 20 thousand, then an increase of IDR 25 thousand, to IDR 78 thousand / day. Within a working week Monday-Friday. “So the last time working there, in one month my income reached IDR 1.8 million,” she said. 

If you look at the income, Hani admitted that she would not be able to meet the needs of the family, especially since Hani was the backbone of the family. “I married twice. The first husband didn’t go to work, so we separated. Then six years ago, I remarried but my husband also didn’t work,” she said, in a sad tone.

To meet their daily needs, while still working at PT Batik Sutra Putih, Hani was selling things to obtain extra income. “So at the workplace, I sell things by credit, be it refrigerators, beds, anything. Whatever people want, I provide,” explained the mother of two children.

When laid off last February, Company management said that they were forced to reduce employee numbers, because products rarely sell, while they keep spending heavily. “At that time, I was hit by a second round of layoffs, with 30 other people. Three months earlier there had also been a first round of layoffs. The strange thing is that it was old employees who were laid off, and not new employees,” added Hani, who was still working in the packing department at the time. 

After the layoffs, severance pay was very unfair, only IDR 3.1 million. Despite being depressed, because she’s used to having a busy life, Hani decided to rise from this adversity. For three months now, she has been selling nasi uduk (Uduk rice is a traditional Betawi steamed rice cooked in coconut milk originated from Jakarta) near her home in Ciater, South Tangerang. “As the backbone of the family, I have to be strong, I can’t whine and be a crybaby,” she said.

It turned out that the decision to sell uduk rice worked out well. She only opened the food stall for 3.5 hours, from 05.30-09.00 AM, but she was able to earn an income of IDR 300 thousand – IDR 400 thousand / day. From the results, she saved IDR 100,000 per day. Now when the fasting month arrives, the resident rice business is stopped, replaced by selling rice cake and various fried foods. From selling this, she earned IDR 300 thousand / day. “I am not proud, I sell whatever can be sold. I will do anything so that I can educate my children and meet their daily needs,” declared the woman in a hijab.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, Hani knew it would not be easy to get another job. “Work is getting more difficult to find, even more are being laid off,” she said. She claimed to have been offered work in a laundry business at a salary of IDR 1.3 million per month. “After I calculated, I decided it’s better to just stay as a seller,” she said as she laughed.

One thing to be thankful for, after being terminated from work, she has no installments to pay. “When I heard I was about to be laid off, I still had 7 months of repayments, at that time I was doing Umrah, I prayed, ‘O God, if I have to be laid off later, I hope my installments are paid off’. It turned out that God heard my prayer, after the installments were paid off, then I was laid off,” she said with a smile. 

Even though life is not easy, Hani doesn’t want to give up. From her current business and the earnings from 11 years working in the industry, Hani has savings. The hope is that one day, she can build a house for his little family. “For now we’re still staying in our parents’ house,” she said, finishing her story. [des]

Asep Iim Rohiman, laid off after working for 25 years,
Still struggling to get severance pay 

Asep Iim Rohiman comes from Kuningan, West Java. He has worked at PT Phyto Kemo Agung Farma, East Jakarta, since 1994. The company went bankrupt in October 2019, but workers have not been paid since January 2019. Since then, employees have been fighting for their severence pay. However, until now there has been no solution. 

Asep, who previously worked as a warehousers, is still unemployed. “It’s hard to find work, especially since there is a Covid-19 pandemic. Now I work odd jobs, yesterday I had a job as a motorbike taxi driver, but now it’s been quiet since the pandemic. If someone calls me to paint a house, or be a construction worker, I will join, the important thing is I have income to provide for my family,” said the father of two children.

Asep is grateful that his two children have grown up so that now they are supporting the family’s living expenses. Asep really hoped that the severance pay expected to be released soon. “If I get the severance pay later, it will be around IDR 30 million – IDR 40 million. I want the severance pay to be used as capital for a business,” he hoped. [des]

NM Gima Wati, Single parent,
Selling risol to make a living

Everybody when they decide to get married hopes to grow old with their spouse. However, destiny said otherwise, her husband passed away. This was experienced by NM Gima Wati. After her husband’s death, she had to struggle to support her two children who were still in school.

Her husband died 4 years ago due to illness, making Wati struggle to meet the needs of her two children who are still in school. At present her eldest child is still in grade 4 elementary school, and the small one is still in kindergarten. “Thank God, the school is free,” said Wati.

To make a living, this woman from Bogor decided to work as a washerwoman, starting four years ago. But now, when the Covid-19 virus came, she was laid off from work last March. Life is becoming more difficult to face. “It’s difficult to eat, especially to pay for electricity,” she said while talking to the Independent Observer, Sunday night, 26/04/2020.

When she was still working, she was paid IDR 400,000 / month. She worked three times a week, usually from 11 am to 6 pm. “I was dismissed, because after the Coronavirus, the boss also experienced difficulties,” she said. To make a living, she receives daily washing and ironing calls. She is usually paid between IDR 30 thousand and IDR 50 thousand. “Depending on the amount of laundry, but that too rarely happens nowadays, today many people are forced to cut their expenses,” she said.

Wati wants to find another job, but her only skills are washing and ironing. After being laid off, life becomes more difficult for Wati. “It’s more often for me to be unable to eat, because I don’t have money to buy food,” the story is sad.

In order to survive, Wati sells garlic chips by leaving them in a stall near her home in Lenteng Agung, South Jakarta. “I usually place 50 packs, which usually sold out in 3 days. But now with the current pandemic, the sale of chips has also declined,” she said.

Now with the coming of the Holy month of Ramadhan, God’s blessings come to Wati. “Thank God, I’m now selling risol,” said the mother of two children aged 7 and 11 years. From this business, my income per day reaches IDR 180 thousand. “Most of the people who buy are the parents of my children’s friends at school, they just need to order and I will deliver it to them,” she said.

Seeing the demand for her product, Wati hopes that this business can endure. “If there is capital, this business will continue, even after fasting month ends,” she explained. [des]

Rahwati, laid off after 24 years of work,
Affected by layoffs without severance package

Rahwati, or Wati as she is called, became one of the victims of layoffs who until now have not received severance pay. She has worked at the pharmaceutical company PT Phyto Kemo Agung Farma in Susukan, Pasar Rebo, East Jakarta for 24 years. By only relying on a junior high school diploma she immediately applied to work in a company located not far from where she lives. She was accepted to work in the production department. “I worked at the company since I was a girl graduating from junior high school, until now I have high school kids. The location is close to our residence so there is no need for transportation costs anymore. Besides working time from Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday are days off, so there is more time for the family,” explained by the mother of two childrens.

She works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and is given a half hour break in between. Once a month she only receives a salary that amounts to the Provincial Minimum Wage. There was no career path during her working days, and from the day she started to work to being laid off she had always worked in the production department. 

This woman from Kebumen, Central Java, has been laid off since the end of 2019 because the company has indeed found itself in an unstable financial condition. The company is waiting for investors to give an injection of funds, but that hasn’t materialized. Eventually at the end of 2019 all employees were laid off. Ironically, after being laid off until now, Wati and her fellow workers have not received severance pay. The company promised to provide severance pay after an investor decides to buy the company. “Now when this virus pandemic appears, the conditions are more complicated because there is no way anyone would want to buy a company in the current situation,” she said.

Especially at the age of 42, it is no longer possible to apply for a job. The only big hope is severance pay that she does not know when it will be received. “If I get the severance pay later, I want to open a small business selling groceries,” she added. 

In difficult times after being laid off, she also had to be smart to manage finances to meet her daily living expenses, because at this time the family’s income practically only relies on the salary of her husband who works as a security guard. “My husband’s salary is under the Provincial Minimum Wage, and uses an outsourcing system. So the salary must also be cut by a percentage for the outsourcing company. So after I was laid off, I felt the impact. At first, I could help my husband with a salary according to the Provincial Minimum Wage, now only my husband works with a salary that is below the Provincial Minimum Wage,” she explained. 

The biggest difficulty she experienced after being laid off was mainly controlling and managing family finances, so that it was sufficient with income only from the salary of her husband that is under the Provincial Minimum Wage. She also has to get the understanding of her children. 

Wati with her husband and two children are currently living in a tenement that has been purchased since 2011 in installments. At that time the price of the house he bought was still IDR 97 million and to date she is still paying monthly installments of IDR 500 thousand. After being laid off, she admitted that she is in arrears on her house installments. She also asked the seller to understand that she had just been laid off. 

In addition to the house installment fee, currently she also has to pay a data package fee for her two children who have to learn from home during the Large-Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) in DKI Jakarta. Her two children go to second grade and 1st grade high school. Incidentally, the two children go to junior high school and state elementary school so the school fees are free, but she feels the cost of buying a data package is quite a burden. “In a month IDR 100 thousand is not enough to buy a data package because I have to open the lesson link from the teacher, and my two children each must also hold a cellphone because they are at different schools,” she explained. 

Other costs that must be paid every month are electricity bills and daily food needs. “So I have to really rack my brain. Alhamdulillah, I haven’t borrowed money yet, but sometimes my brother also likes to help,” she added.

She also still has to pay for electricity every month without a discount. Even though the electric power in the house is 900 VA, she cannot enjoy the reduction of the electricity bill given by the government in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not all 900 VA electricity customers are entitled to the subsidy, only households with 900 VA electricity power with codes R1 and R1T, while the electricity in her house is coded R1 M (able). “Initially the electricity in my house was 1300 VA, then I reduced it to 900 VA because I was unable to pay the electricity bill,” she explained.

She also did not dare to find a loan to open a business by mortgaging her husband’s motorcycle. The motorbike is needed by her husband to work. She is worried that if she mortgaged the motorcycle to find a business loan, that one day she could not pay the loan. “What if the motorbike is taken possession by the bank, let alone my husband’s workplace is quite far in the Cakung area of East Jakarta,” she said.

Together with her fellow workers, she had shared and discussed how to overcome family economic problems. One of the discussed topics is to be able to look for work again, but in the end they are constrained by an average age of being over 40 years. 

She and her friends also often went to the Ministry of Manpower Office to look for a solution to the severance pay problem, but the Ministry of Manpower Office could not do anything because the company was closed. The Ministry of Manpower asks the company owner to immediately pay labor rights but the owner promises to pay severance pay after the company is sold. “Now the communication is done through a corporate lawyer. I just pray that hopefully there will be investors willing to buy the company,” she hoped. 

Wati, who is a member of the union management at the company, also often participates in meetings to fight for workers’ severance pay. Now the commercial court is closed off with the implementation of the PSBB, so meetings to discuss workers’ severance are also temporarily stopped. “We have around 8 union officials meeting with the company director in the commercial court, usually there are judges who come to discuss when our rights are paid, how much severance is received, and so on,” she explained. 

She hoped that in the near future the Covid-19 pandemic will end, so that there are investors who are quick to buy the company. That way the company owner can also immediately settle the severance pay of the workers. “We initially hoped that if the severance pay will be paid immediately, it would turn out that this pandemic would emerge, even though we really needed the severance pay,” she explained. [eka]

Budi Santoso, laid off after working 4 years,
Relying on income from an online motorcycle transportation Post-layoff

For almost 4 years working in a Chinese restaurant, Budi Santoso must accept the harsh reality of a layoff on March 26, 2020. The Restaurant, which operates many branches, where they have been earning a living all this time, is no longer able to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, the location of the restaurant is inside a mall in the Kelapa Gading area, North Jakarta and was forced to close due to the Large-Scale Social Restriction (PSBB). 

From the beginning of working at the restaurant, he served as the cook with a salary per month according to the Provincial Minimum Wage, and the working system was a contract system that was renewed once every 1 or 2 years. During this time, he considered the restaurant where he works as having provided good facilities to its employees, such as BPJS Health and BPJS Employment. “After graduating from Vocational High School, I immediately went to work at a restaurant, since 2005. Before working at the restaurant, I had experience working at several restaurants. I once worked as the steward or dishwasher, then I taught myself cooking skills and finally could have expertise as a cook. I can cook Chinese food and other menus,” he explained.

On March 26, 2020, restaurant management called him and informed him that it was his last day of work. If things improve he can reapply. The reason for management is because of the impact of Covid-19 effectively cut into the restaurant turnover. The Kelapa Gading area has been imposed into a red zone from March 20, 2020, so that most malls have closed. “On March 20, employees were still told to come in for a week, then take a week off. I myself last worked on March 26. There is also a friend of mine who has been laid off from March 20 until now, ” he recalls. 

According to him employees at the restaurant outlet where he worked numbered about 35 people. Some employees were suspended and some were laid off. Friends who are suspended can immediately go back to work if the restaurant is reopens later. Unlike him, who was laid off, he has to apply for work again and, if accepted, he must start work from the beginning. There are about 3 people who were laid off at the outlet, but of all the branches, the total number of laid off employees is around 200 people. 

Despite being laid off, Budi did not demand severance. He knows exactly the condition of the restaurant that is experiencing difficulties. The restaurant’s business turnover has decreased from the usual tens of millions per day to only one million to two million Rupiah per day. “Thank God, I got a salary in March, because seeing the condition of the restaurant, the turnover has declined,” he said.

Meanwhile Budi’s wife is a typical housewife who takes care of their two small children. The first child is 3 years of age and their second child is only 1.5 years old. They live in a rented house in the East Jakarta area with a rent of IDR 900 thousand per month, not including the electricity bill. Since he no longer works, he also relies on income from online motorbike transport, Go-jek. But now the income from online transportation has dropped dramatically because he is not allowed to carry passengers since PSBB was imposed. Now he only relies on online motorcycle transportation orders from Go-food, Go-send or just Go-shop. Before he was laid off, he also worked as an online motorbike driver as a side job. 

“Right now, the income from online transportation is only 50 thousand a day. Yesterday I could not even get an order for Go-food or Go-send at all from morning until sunset. Now, if I’m lucky, I can make IDR 100,000, very different prior to the PSBB regulations, I could get income from online transportation services up to IDR 300 thousand or IDR 400 thousand a day,” he explained.

In addition to having to pay rent, Budi also has to pay installments for a loan on his motorcycle. He also feels a rather heavy burden at this time because the main income from working at the restaurant is no longer available. He once proposed a waiver, but according to him the leasing party only provided additional tenure and reduced the number of installments. He also discussed this with his wife, and will follow the rules of the leasing party. “The President once said about the suspension of motorcycle loans for ojol (online transport) for one year, but when I asked regarding this to the leasing company it turned out that the implementation is only the addition of tenors. So it is actually the same, my installments, which are usually IDR 800 thousand per month became IDR 600 thousand per month. But the tenor was added, previously my installments are less than 12 months, now it has been added to 24 months,” he explained. 

In fact, he was forced to borrow from friends or relatives to pay rent before receiving his salary. “In March I was supposed to be paid on the 1st but was postponed on March 12th. So to pay the rent, I needed to borrow money, and after getting the salary, I will pay off the debt,” he said softly. 

Now he doesn’t know how to pay the rent in May, whether the income from online transportation services are enough to pay for it. He must work harder for sure. “The important thing is that I have tried to work outside the home with the intention of seeking a proper and halal fortune. Indeed, in the current conditions I should be at home, but if I don’t go out, my family won’t be able to eat, we can only surrender to God’s will at this point,” he said.

The biggest difficulty faced by Budi is to be able to meet their needs by relying only on online transportation services income, which is currently dramatically down. Moreover, his two children are still very young and need nutritious food intake, including baby milk. “Alhamdulillah, I haven’t borrowed this month, I have enough for my food needs, but to pay rent I don’t know, if I am forced to, I’ll borrow it,” he added.

He said that he had received social assistance in the form of groceries from the DKI Jakarta Provincial Government. He also registered for the pre-work card but apparently did not pass, so he had to register again for the next wave. In the future he hopes to get a job with a monthly salary. “Indeed, in normal conditions the income from online transportation services is enough, but my child is still very young and needs a lot of nutritious food for growth,” said the 32-year-old man.

He hopes that the condition will recover soon, and that government cares about the condition of the people like him. “I expect the government to pay attention to people like us; because of the impact of Covid-19 many people lost their jobs,” he concluded. [eka]