JAKARTA – Indonesia has been among the regions hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Asia, as community transmission and a high morbidity rate continue to cloud the country’s road toward recovery. Since the country reported its first two COVID-19 patients on March 2, 2020, cases have surged to over 4.2 million almost two years later, with more than 143,960 related fatalities.
Economic repercussions and restrictions affecting employment loom over more than 4 million textile and garment workers in the country, most of them women. Factories have resorted to lay-offs, furloughs, reduced work hours, non-renewals of contracts and wage cuts. More than 29 million workers have been affected nationwide by the pandemic, and 3 million additional workers were left unemployed.
The Indonesia’s Textile Association (API) reported that, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 80 percent of textile and textile product companies in the country had temporarily halted operations in April 2020. Over 160 export-oriented garment factories enrolled in Better Work Indonesia and more than 237,000 of their workers have also been affected, with 22,840 workers having lost their jobs. Several factories reported a nosedive in buyers’ orders of between 30 to 70 percent.
Partnering with national stakeholders on OSH initiatives, including a vaccine campaign
The German government and ILO launched a project focused on strengthening occupational safety and health (OSH) protection measures, cushioning enterprises from immediate employment and income losses and compensating workers for the loss of income due to COVID-19.
The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in Indonesia, it distributed necessary personal protection equipment (PPE), including masks, soap, hand sanitizers and posters to over 200 member factories. The project also held industry seminars on OSH and led COVID-19 prevention campaigns on social media for workers.
The initiative aimed to not only protect workers and businesses from COVID-19 impacts, but to build a culture of prevention regarding OSH in the workplace, strengthening networks among workers and employers in the garment sector and surrounding communities. One of the factory recipients, PT Rina Jaya in Central Java, for instance, has distributed the PPE to nearby government-run health care facilities in return of their COVID-19 assistance to the factory, local communities, and street vendors.
The program has also developed guidelines for the implementation of labour inspection during the COVID-19 pandemic to better address and respond to emerging concerns. It focuses on the implementation of OSH protocol practices and their impacts on discrimination during the outbreak. Given the social distancing measures, the guidelines provide two models of inspection – online and offline – with inspections focused on factories’ pandemic management and business continuity. The inspection guidelines are a joint product of the ILO and the Ministry of Manpower.
One of the most impressive efforts has been the project’s vaccination centers, targeting vulnerable workers in the garment sector. Through a collaboration with the Indonesian Employers Association (APINDO), the project set up 12 vaccination centers, eight of which were located in Better Work partner factories, successfully distributing 21,120 doses of vaccines to workers, their families and surrounding communities.
“The program is an effort to accelerate the distribution of vaccines to workers and their families. Workers can be protected from the worst of the virus.” said Danang Girindrawardana, Executive Director of APINDO. He added the vaccination center program is a collaboration effort between APINDO & the ILO-BMZ to prevent the wide transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace, especially in labor-intensive industries such as the garment sector. This way, business continuity aligns with workers’ safety and health.
Employment Retention with ILO-BMZ Wage Subsidy Programme
Furloughed workers have had to bear reduced wages, while some employers have resorted to the no work, no pay scheme, taking a dire toll on workers’ primary source of income. In a bid to maintain both workers’ livelihoods as well as factories’ continuity, the ILO and BMZ together have launched a wage subsidy program. The programme strongly encouraged social dialogue in addition to making subsidies available.
From January to April 2021, the programme was able to distribute Rp1,058,310,000 ($72,986.90) to total 8,684 workers in seven factories in the Bettter Work Programme. Such an intervention, aligned with principles upheld by international social security standards, is expected to provide additional evidence for the development of a public wage subsidy program in Indonesia’s social security system.
Landmark compensation fund in time of need
Perhaps most remarkably, the ILO-BMZ project has collaborated with F SP TSK KSPSI (the garment federation associated to the Confederation of All-Indonesian Workers Unions). The F SP TSK – SPSI and Garteks (the garment federation associated with the Confederation of All Indonesian Trade Union (KSBSI)) to directly aid workers who are coping with job loss or job reduction as a result of the pandemic. As of December 2021, the project disbursed 1.7 million USD to 20,004 workers from 205 factories in the Better Work Indonesia programme. The speed at which the funds were disbursed – four months – as well as the high number of workers covered, is unprecedented and a testament to the commitment showed by the garment trade unions federations involved in the project.
“I am so grateful to receive this compensation fund. I used the fund to upgrade my sewing skills, so I could open my own dressmaking shop,” said Sri Sayekti a former garment factory worker in Ungaran, Central Java. She added that losing her job after working in the company for 27 years left her devastated. However, she is optimistic that her new skill will help her to face the future and access more opportunities.
Ary Joko, who is the chairperson of Garteks KSBI said the Rp. 1.2 million (US$ 90) compensation fund is a positive surprise for workers who lost their jobs. “The ILO-BMZ compensation fund is another relief for garment workers during this challenging time, and what seemed like a small amount went a long way for many garment workers.”