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Seasonal workers still lack protection

Jakarta Post - June 26, 2000

Jakarta – The lack of a clear-cut regulation on industrial labor relationships and poor control from the government have led to the vast exploitation of workers, especially those hired on a seasonal basis, according to legal expert Apong Herlina.

Apong Herlina of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) said on Saturday that unlike permanent and temporary employees, the seasonal workers were not protected by any of the country's existing laws on industrial labor relationships.

"Still, many people have no other choice but to sign a completely unsecured, unfair contract because it is not easy to find a job these days," she told a discussion on legal protection for seasonal workers.

According to the existing regulation, companies are only allowed to hire employees on a temporary basis, up five years in maximum. After five years, such workers should be appointed permanent workers if the companies still needed them.

In reality, Apong said, many people had been hired as temporary or seasonal workers for over 20 years. "Worse still, they don't get the facilities or bonuses given to their permanent working colleagues despite the fact that they have worked as hard and produced the same quality services as the permanent workers do," she added.

She said that under the existing laws, companies can only hire non-permanent workers to work in areas that are not the companies' core activities, Apong said. Many big companies, however, had taken advantage of the country's unsound legal system by hiring cheaper workers through recruitment agencies on a temporary or seasonal basis and placing them in areas that are "significant" to their core business, she said.

Many banks, for example, hired temporary workers for their main businesses, such as customer services and credit card products, she said, adding that some banks had even placed temporary staff in their relatively "sensitive" divisions, such as the popular 24-hour telebanking customer services. "Banks which hired non-permanent workers in their telebanking divisions have clearly violated the regulation on banking secrecy because they let non-employees have access to their customers' accounts," she said.

Director of the working prerequisites office at the Ministry of Manpower I Wayan Nedeng, who also spoke at the seminar and admitted that the government had failed to solve the labor problems, said the most cases found by his office concerned companies underpaying their non-permanent workers. "The law orders companies to pay non-permanent workers no less than what they pay the permanent ones. But, in practice many companies underpay these non-permanent workers," he said.

Several seminar participants, working as executives at human resources offices at foreign banks that also hire seasonal workers through worker agencies, denied the allegation, saying that the banks had settled payments properly with the agencies.

Separately, Ditta Amarhoseya, head of corporate affairs at Citibank Indonesia, which recently faced protests from some of its non-permanent employees hired through local labor agencies, said workers who were hired through such agencies were not the bank's responsibility.

"They are employees of the agencies ... The contracts they signed are with the agencies, not us. Thus, their salaries and other compensation are the responsibilities of the agencies," she said in a company statement following the protest.

Some 30 temporary workers at Citibank, some of whom have worked there for over five years, recently demanded that the bank – which recently secured a labor agreement with the company's labor union – hire them on a permanent basis.

Ditta said it was common for big companies like Citibank to hire workers from laborer agencies to be placed in some fields, such as cleaning services, working as messengers and in operational divisions, whose volume of work was not constant but fluctuated according to market conditions.

Wayan said the government was currently working to complete three new regulations to cover more aspects in industrial labor relationships. In the meantime, he urged employees to form labor unions at their places of work in order to strengthen their positions in negotiations with their employers. "The existing laws encourage workers to form labor unions to help them with their rights ... Companies must not try to stop workers from establishing unions," he said.