For some, the remaining uncertainty from the COVID-19 outbreak looming over Indonesia’s garment industry has strengthened the bonds within the workplace: workers and management have shouldered the shared responsibility to keep everyone safe and their livelihoods afloat.
A shared commitment to ensuring strong occupational health and safety (OSH) practices in a time of crisis has strengthened existing relationships. Factories have set up dedicated teams to fight against the invisible enemy, even if it means those involved have to bear a heavier load themselves.
Throughout the pandemic, some workers and management representatives have had to spend hours every day patrolling production facilities to make sure everyone wears their mask and maintains their distance from each other. Some others come early to work to carry out health screenings on workers, while others handle suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, helping workers get tested and asking if anyone has been in contact with them for tracing purposes.
Mario Prostasius, the Federation of Metal Workers Union Head of Shoes Manufacturer PT Sepatu Mas Idaman’s (SEMASI), says he has to start patrolling at 10 am every morning, covering all production facilities in the factory. Having never experienced an outbreak of this scale, Mario says going the extra length to keep everyone safe has been worth the effort.
“If companies do it for the business continuity, we do it for humanity; my fellow workers must be safe and must not be exposed to the virus,” he says.
Trade unions’ support in enforcing health protocols “determines the success” in ensuring employees’ compliance, agreed Henry Listiandry, PT SEMASI’s Human Resource Department and General Affairs Manager.
Linda Effendi, a compliance specialist at garment exporter PT Citra Abadi Sejati (CAS), said she continued providing support for the factory’s contact-tracing team during her self-isolation for COVID-19 at home. Linda has tirelessly taken an active part in the factory’s COVID-19 taskforce by tracing close contacts. She unfortunately caught the virus in February 2021, forcing her to be separated from her son for weeks.
“I see it as part of my worship to God to work beyond my job description,” says Linda, who also who is in charge of coordinating the factory’s prevention programme of infectious disease and is a member of the company’s OSH committee.
Members of PT CAS’ COVID-19 task-force, including clinic workers, say they are also worried about contracting the virus and decided to double their masks, use other PPE produced by the company, and carefully manage their diets, as well as get themselves routinely tested for COVID-19.
For Jimmy Siswanto, the compliance manager at garment exporter PT Gaya Indah Kharisma, being part of the factory’s COVID-19 taskforce has added to his “motivation to go to work,” as he wants to make sure workers will not catch the virus, subsequently maintaining factory’s operations.
Dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Better Work Indonesia has compiled a set of guidelines and best practices to help factories navigate through the crisis and future crises. Better Work has strongly recommended that companies consult with workers’ representatives or trade unions to develop and disseminate efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, in order to avoid misunderstanding due to lack of communication.
Despite the incredible losses of the pandemic, the challenge has highlighted the strength and capacity of people cooperating for a common cause. OSH cannot be a box-checking exercise managed by one or two people—it is a matter of life or death for teams, workplaces and enterprises.