Poor Women: We Are Not Lazy People And Don’t Want To Work

Women workers have been fighting for their rights since 1910 as part of International Women's Day. But in Indonesia, until now, they are still trapped in poverty problems such as debt. These women who were in debt are still stigmatized as poor, stupid, lazy, and don't want to work. #BreakTheBias: stop stigmatizing poor women.

#BreakTheBias is the theme of International Women’s Day this year. Konde wrote an exclusive coverage on “Poor Women: We are not lazy people and don’t want to work.” It circulates from March 8 until 10 2022 in an effort to break the bias that has been attached to the poor as lazy people, who don’t want to be grateful and don’t want to work. 

Pancong, Sukapura, North Jakarta. Finished doing the work for clothes, Yuni immediately returned from the factory where she worked, in the Kawasan Berikat Nusantara or Archipelago Bonded Zone, Cakung. After a 10 minutes walk, she arrived at the rented house.

Yuni’s life for five years fell apart after she had to pay her friend who was in debt. The debt is up to 23 million rupiahs. Her friend who was a fellow worker then returned home with her 3 children. She is unable to survive in Jakarta because she has a lot of debt. Yuni seems to be cursed because she introduced her to a friend who gave her a debt. Be Yuni who has to pay the debt every month.

“My condition is getting more and more difficult, madam, I pay a debt of Rp 1.6 million a month. Yet I haven’t paid the rent, the children’s school needs, the money must also be sent to my family in the village,” said Yuni who was contacted by Konde on March 7, 2022.

Lives in a rented two-bedroom house, the room is 3 meters, the house is shared with one child. Her second child is in the village with her husband.

“The important thing is there is a place to cook and rest, and a bathroom outside. The rent is IDR 700 thousand a month.”

The low wages become the ultimate push for many women workers to choose to go into debt. According to them, debt is one of the best ways they have taken to solve life’s problems. Even though many moneylenders who ensnare them with high interest, up to 100% of the interest.

“The interest can be up to 100 percent, so the debt is not paid off. Every time I pay my debt I always say, it hasn’t been paid off, it hasn’t been paid off, it’s still a long time,” said Yuni.

There is also the issue of bias attached to women who are in debt. They are often given a stamp as poor and spoiled, like shopping, so they become consumptive, then the money runs out. Even though the debt is a poverty trap that has long been happening to female workers in Cakung.

The women who are in debt are female workers who are single parents, who are pregnant and about to give birth, whose husbands do not work, and who are suddenly laid off from the factory where they work.

The stereotype is untrue and is haphazardly assigned to working women as ungrateful people, as consumptive women, lazy to work.

Dian Septi, Chairperson of the Federation of Indonesian Union Trade Unions (FSBPI) stated that these biases and stereotypes were then attached to female workers.

“They are stereotyped as people who are consumptive, like shopping, so they have a lot of debt,” said Dian Septi who was contacted by Konde on March 7, 2022.

She added, the debts of women workers are used to meet primary needs, such as buying oil and rice, not for secondary needs. But this painful stereotype is just pinned to them.

Research conducted by Marsinah FM and the Labor Study Group (Kobar) published on 7 December 2020 found the fact that these female workers seemed to be forced to bind themselves to debt.

N, B, L, M and the Women Who Are Deep in Debt

Apart from Yuni, another case also happened, let’s say his name is N (37 years old), she is in arrears on her rent. The total arrears are IDR 5 million. She is a garment worker with  contract status and a single parent.

In the early days of the pandemic, she was laid off and only returned to work for about 3 months. Time and again, she and her four daughters were evicted by the landlord. With all her might, she tried to convince the landlord to give more leeway. With the help of her eldest daughter, N managed to find a loan of IDR 1.2 million to repay the arrears on her rent.

At the beginning of the pandemic, she was sent home without receiving wages. She had to use her neighbor’s wifi without permission so her son could continue to attend school online. If caught, the neighbors will come to N’s house and be angry to them. However, N did this over and over again. The reason was simple: she couldn’t afford to buy an internet quota for her son because of her high debt burden.

Another female worker named B (47 years old), is a female worker with one child. She worked for 9 years as an administrative staff in a shipping company. While working, she is paid below the City Minimum Wage (UMK) even though she works almost 10 hours every day.

During the pandemic, the company tried to make it uncomfortable to work by making mutations several times. She was laid off without proper compensation. Now, she no longer has an income. Completely, B depends on relatives and friends for daily needs. Amid such difficulties, she has never once received social assistance from the government.

It is different with L (36 years old) with her husband’s dependents who are victims of layoffs and their two children. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was laid off without receiving wages, even though she had worked for six years. During the pandemic, she never received social assistance from the government. Meanwhile, she did not receive the wage subsidy (BSU) from BPJS Ketenagakerjaan even though her friends at the same factory had already received it.

There is also M (23 years) who when the research was conducted was 6 months pregnant. She continued to work for less than IDR 3 million because it was reduced to half of what she usually received. One-third of her income has been used for housing, electricity, and water costs. Her husband is no longer working because he was laid off.

With various tactics, she is struggling so that the baby she will give birth to is in a healthy condition. The uncontrolled COVID-19 situation does not necessarily make the government or entrepreneurs think about the safety of the laborers of mothers who are pregnant or caring for toddlers.

A total of five informants in this study stated in the research that they were taking care of babies/toddlers and one resource person was pregnant.

Of all the informants who are taking care of babies/toddlers, one resource person has experienced layoffs, two interviewees have had their wages cut, and one resource person has just given birth to a baby whose birth period is almost over.

Meanwhile, one resource person who was pregnant experienced a pay cut. Resource persons who experienced layoffs, got this bad luck when they were in a state of late pregnancy. Thus, she gave birth in a condition without income and only relied on savings. Meanwhile, a resource person who had just given birth admitted that she was very worried when her labor period ended because she has the potential to be infected or become a carrier for the COVID-19 virus.

Debt Due to Low Income

On average, the monthly income of these workers is around 3 millions rupiah or about 70% of the DKI Jakarta UMP. However, the working hours tend to be longer than the working hours of formal workers.

No different from formal workers, sources who work in convection businesses stated that their income was reduced during the pandemic. A unit-based remuneration system makes this wage reduction more likely.

The pandemic has destroyed the economy. However, one of the most devastated is the workers whose work has been very lowly valued. Therefore, when companies are given the freedom by the government to treat their workers arbitrarily during the pandemic, workers with low wages only see one solution, namely debt.

For workers, the government’s priority on the comfort of investors in doing business seems to be the main spectacle during the pandemic. Various excuses are presented, as long as the entrepreneur feels comfortable. It doesn’t matter how loud the workers scream.

This simple research then tries to give an idea of ​​how women workers are being victimized in this difficult time. Long before the pandemic, the feminization of industry had placed a heavy burden on female workers, who were responsible for both production and reproduction work.

A total of 11 sources in this study stated that debt is an option to meet needs due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, three other informants stated that they had run out of savings so the potential for debt was very high.

Six other sources stated that they had no debt because the company they worked for was still producing with almost the same working hours compared to before the pandemic. Meanwhile, the average number of dependents of the informants is two to three family members.

The factors that drive the choice of debt: mothers who become single parents experience layoffs or reduced wages (8 people); loss of spouse’s source of income due to layoffs (3 people); and/or increased needs of family members to be borne.

However, among these causes, the pre-eminent factor that worsened the situation was the politics of cheap wages, making it almost impossible for workers to save as an emergency fund. The second is due to the implementation of policies that are not in favor of workers during the pandemic, as well as poor job security.

“Robbing peter to pay paul” also known as “dig a hole, cover the hole” is a reality that is very close to the daily life of workers. Instead of financial management constraints, low wages are the cause that does not allow the wages received to be strictly regulated.

For example rent for housing, electricity, and water has absorbed 25-30% of basic wages on average. Wage structures and scales, which should allow workers with longer tenures to earn higher wages, are rarely implemented by companies.

Whereas, on the other hand, the rule of law has recognized that the minimum wage is only adequate to meet the living needs of single workers. As a result, workers who have worked for a dozen years often receive wages only equal to the minimum wage.

Government Policy in favor of Entrepreneurs

As reported by the ILO (2016), this wage inequality reaches 25% in the textile sector and 14% in the garment sector.

With the fact that the wages received by women workers are poor, in this case, the workers who are the main breadwinners, it is only natural that debt is a quick solution that can be taken by the workers who are the main breadwinners.

In fact, the decline in market demand during the pandemic does not necessarily make the company’s cash empty. Companies that have been operating for many years of course have cash that is ideally used in times like today.

Meanwhile, the government never dared to order companies to issue audits of the company’s financial condition transparently to workers.

The social assistance that is often touted by the government, even with special qualities with such a design that once affected distribution, has not been distributed properly to citizens who are in this very urgent situation.

This is exacerbated by the state’s neglect of children, even toddlers, which will have an impact on children’s growth and development in this vulnerable period. Concerning child nutrition, of course, there should be real action from the state considering the importance of nutritional intake during growth.

Ideally, the guarantee of increasing labor welfare in the next year through a more decent wage increase or the provision of appropriate social assistance can be the mitigation for this problem.

Luviana dan Marina Nasution

Journalist Konde.co

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