Alya Nurbaiti, Jakarta – In the eight months since the first announcement of COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) has received a number of reports of media companies that have cut wages, delayed salary payments and laid off employees, citing COVID-19 as the reason for the need to cut costs.
The union has also found that many journalists have been infected with the coronavirus in the course of their work.
From March to September, at least 242 journalists tested positive for COVID-19, according to AJI data. "Journalists should have received protection from the media outlet they work for instead of being deprived of their rights," AJI secretary-general Revolusi Riza said in a written statement on Monday.
Indeed, the AJI said that journalists were among the most vulnerable workers during the pandemic.
AJI Surabaya recorded in August that a number of media workers at Jawa Pos were offered a choice between early retirement or being laid off as part of the company's efficiency drive amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Workers who refused to retire early, including some members of the Jawa Pos workers union, were laid off. However, several employees who had been laid off were later rehired as contract workers.
Jawa Pos human resources director Rudy Harahap said that the company had upheld the rights of its employees. "PT Jawa Pos Koran met all the obligations of employees who signed a mutual agreement for termination of employment in accordance with, even exceeding, the provisions of the Labor Law," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Tempo has also laid off several employees. One employee, Maria Rita Ida Hasugian, wrote in an open letter that she had received no explanation of the criteria or indicators used in determining who was laid off. The company offered a severance payment below what the Labor Law requires. The AJI said that some laid off employees were later offered work with Tempo as contributors on a contract basis.
Tempo Media Group corporate secretary Tomi Aryanto said employees had written an open letter regarding the matter. He said the problem had now been resolved. "Tempo is transforming digitally and needs to restructure. An agreement has been reached between the employees and the company," said Tomi.
According to reports that the AJI has received, other major media companies in Jakarta have also been postponing the payment of salaries and holiday allowances and cutting salaries as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country.
Press Council member in charge of complaints and press ethics enforcement Arif Zulkifli said, however, that the Press Council had yet to receive a complaint or formal consultation request from any media company. "We have only had an informal talk with Jawa Pos. The Press Council hopes that any layoffs by media companies will be carried out in accordance with the law," he said.
The AJI insisted that the crisis should not be used as an excuse for media companies to lay off their employees at will or to neglect their employees' rights.
"Stop postponing and cutting wages and laying off staff arbitrarily. Stop layoff practices that do not comply with the 2003 Labor Law, the Job Creation Law is yet to be implemented so any labor dispute must adhere to the Labor Law," AJI said.
It also demanded that media companies do not suppress worker's unions and engage in transparent dialogue instead of one-way communication in solving labor disputes and value their journalists more, as journalists are the backbone of any media company.
In August, The Jakarta Post announced that it would lay off two-thirds of its employees in a bid to reduce costs and ease financial hardship. However, as of yet, the plan remains unclear, leaving employees in a state of uncertainty that has affected their mental health and productivity.
On Oct. 12, the Post's management encouraged employees to resign by offering a severance package for those who could no longer stand the uncertainty and wished to leave. From August until October 28, at least 22 editorial staff had resigned amid the uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the Post's chief editor M. Taufiqurrahman said that apart from the voluntary resignation scheme, salaries were still being regularly paid to date.
"As for the rationalization [to increase efficiency] scheme, quoting the shareholders, 'the process will be carried out in accordance with prevailing regulations'," he said on Tuesday, adding that by prevailing regulations, he meant "the 2003 Labor Law, as long as there is no new law".