cardboard city: no vacancies - Indonesian homeless & unemployed

Tom Boland (
Sun, 15 Feb 1998 20:01:25 -0800 (PST)

    Indonesia - 13 Feb 1998


     By Louise Williams, Sidney Morning Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

     On the flickering TV screen a fierce karate battle is being fought
     out between the forces of good and evil as a group of young,
     jobless men crowd onto the narrow benches of the footpath noodle
     stall, the steam from the soup vat mingling with car fumes and the
     heavy blanket of humidity.

     For a moment, they say, they can forget their problems. The good
     guy must win. But their own reality beyond the TV drama is the
     knowledge that no matter how hard they are willing to work, no-one
     is hiring in Jakarta. Factory after factory is locking its gates,
     rows of shops remain closed and vast construction sites lay idle.

     Right across the capital thousands now walk the streets at night,
     or sleep under highway overpasses on neat squares of cardboard. The
     city authorities say 500,000 more people have flooded into Jakarta
     since the end of the Muslim fasting month holiday, the traditional
     time of the year for rural villagers to seek their fortune in the

     This year, after the worst drought in 50 years, the people on the
     land are even more willing to take a risk and leave as harvests
     fail. But in the cities the economic crisis is just starting to
     bite hard as prices soar and businesses go bankrupt. At bus
     stations giant posters tell new arrivals: "If you do not have a
     job, or relatives to support you, please do not come to Jakarta."

     The Jakarta Governor has backed down on his controversial plan to
     force new job-seekers to return to the villages, but warned that
     they would face "natural selection" in the city.

     The city's Social Welfare head, Mr Soeparmo, warned: "There is no
     hope of these people getting jobs here now. Our draft budget
     predicts zero economic growth, and economic activities are already
     relatively dead."

     Last week the Manpower Minister, Mr Abdul Latief, revealed that 8
     million were now officially unemployed, compared with 2.5 million
     in mid-1997. However, official unemployment figures register only
     those with less than one hour's paid employment a week.

     Recently, the country's one official trade union said
     "underemployment" - in which people earn less than their daily
     needs - would reach 40 million this year, out of a workforce of 90

     Most heavily hit are labourers on construction sites and factory
     workers. The construction industry estimates 2 million day workers
     have been laid off in Jakarta alone.

     But Indonesia's middle class is also being heavily hit. From this
     month executives are accepting pay cuts.

     The Government has launched a massive job creation scheme offering
     75 million working days at a minimum wage of 7,500 rupiah (about
     $A2) for the dirtiest jobs, such as cleaning the filthy drains and
     digging ditches.

     At the noodle stall the mood is glum.

     "Normally, I could get a job within a week," said Tarno, 27, a
     construction worker. "I will wait a month, no matter how tough it
     gets, because I don't know how I will even pay my son's school
     fees. But, after that I will have to go back to the village."


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