Small sacrifices add up: how workers manage well-being in a time of little recreation

10 Oct 2021

Chatting with neighbors, eating out at the mall and going to the zoo are typically affordable pastimes for Indonesian garment workers during their days off. For the past year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has stripped them of these little joys—a sacrifice they had to make to ensure everyone’s safety. Many workers had to remain isolated in order to keep operations and the factory environment safe.

Compliance manager Jimmy Siswanto wonders when he can take his two-year-old grandchild to see, for the first time, animals at the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta. Attempts to curb the virus have led to the temporary closures or limitations of several public places across regions in Indonesia, where new COVID-19 cases continue to reach the thousands daily.

“I have been working, and I want some refreshing time with my family, but it has to be put off,” says Jimmy, who has also been taking part in the COVID-19 task force of garment manufacturer PT Gaya Indah Kharisma.

The pandemic has limited the choices of recreational activities for families like Jimmy’s. Even routine dinners with his  neighbors in his apartment complex have ceased, as about four families there have caught the virus, he says.

With how easily transmissible the virus is, COVID-19 prevention efforts require all parties involved to go the extra length in protecting themselves and everyone around them for the continuity of their own livelihoods. Some workers, like Jimmy, have taken on an additional workload by participating in mitigation and handling efforts at factories.

In some regions in Indonesia, COVID-19 clusters may lead to the temporary suspension of workplace activities. Workers have been advised to avoid crowded places and traveling to their hometowns during the holidays. The Government of Indonesia also announced shorter public holidays in 2021 to prevent a spike in cases. For some workers, this means staying home for long periods of time, possibly costing them aspects of their physical and mental well-being—especially at a time of job insecurity and amid sometimes overwhelming new information on the disease.

Acknowledging the importance of positive mental well-being among garment workers, Better Work Indonesia has developed virtual stress management trainings targeted to the workers and management of its member factories. Dozens of workers from 64 factories joined the trainings that provide room for participants to interactively share their feelings and navigate their ways in overcoming stress with an expert. Experts also shared practical information, tips and exercises to manage emotions, with a series of videos remaining accessible for refreshers after the trainings.

Reaching out to more workers has become easier by using the interactive Instagram live feature on the popular social media platform, through which Better Work Indonesia has also delivered educational mental health campaigns. These live broadcasts cover topics on stress management, including on parenting and home schooling, as most schools remain closed in Indonesia. A recent session also focused on the challenge of not returning home for the celebrated Idul Fitri holiday, as well as on maintaining composure amid constant exposure to negative news on the outbreak.

Union leader at PT Sepatu Mas Idaman, Mario Prostasius, who has been assigned to its COVID-19 patrol team, says he has not gone out of his house in Bogor, West Java, for the majority of the pandemic, except for urgent matters, as the region still poses a high risk of transmission.

“Psychologically speaking, we need holidays. In the factory, I’ve always been facing machines. For the past year, my friends and I have been feeling weary and it’s about time we need recreation,” he says.

As Mario, Jimmy and others work to keep Indonesia’s apparel industry afloat, they continue to make sacrifices that would be challenging for anyone. Until the time that the dangers of the pandemic significantly wane, Better Work Indonesia will be there to support their well-being, even if that support must be shared virtually.

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