YouthSpeak: Solidarity is the key to present and future worker struggles

Workers employed in a company that works on a project launched by President Joko Widodo himself and financed under the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) to provide an additional 35 megawatts of electricity to Indonesia, should put them in a very good position.

Not quite. 

Yolanda Dwi Martika, a 20-year old worker in the PLTU Sumsel 1 construction project, said that the opposite is true. “When an infrastructure project is deemed by a country of national strategic interest, the welfare of its employed workers should be prioritised. Sadly, our situation is the opposite," she said.

Yolanda, who started working in September 2019, joined a trade union at her workplace three months after being hired. She said that her experience in joining the union provided her with new perspectives, which she said were not taught to her in school. She said that when she was still in school, she had a very rosy picture of the world of work. She thought that all she needs to do is work hard in order to get paid and prosper in life.  “Unfortunately, everything is different once you've entered the world of work. It is hardly the ideal working world which I once imagined,” she lamented. 

She narrated how she witnessed numerous labour law violations at the PLTU Sumsel 1project. She said that wages were below the standard, overtime pay were unpaid, there were no health facilities and health protection, personal protective equipment were substandard, workers endure long working hours and the project site has a high risk of work-related accidents. 

Yolanda said that she herself has to work long hours, starting at 7:30 in the morning and returning home at 6:00 in the evening. She said that this threatens her safety, citing the long trips she makes each day from her workplace back to her home passing through dimly-lighted rubber and oil plantations. “Every day I worry about my own safety," she said.

Yolanda also took exception to the gender-based discrimination suffered by women workers. “In a workplace dominated by men, women workers are often discriminated against,” she said.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, she said that workers at the PLTU workplace were treated “inhumanely.” She said that the company stopped work without paying its workers their salaries. When workers complained before the Muara Enim Manpower office, Yolanda said that responses to their complaints were slow.   

Through BWI’s campaign for decent jobs coinciding with the celebration of International Youth Day this year, Yolanda hopes that their government will respond adequately to their issues, handle the pandemic professionally and prioritise improving the economy. "As a young trade unionist, I support BWI’s fight to promote the rights of young and women workers, like myself, who face many problems in the workplace. Solidarity is the key to our present and future struggles. We must keep our unions strong to continue empowering young workers,” Yolanda concluded.