The world recognizes the magnitude of the impact of Covid-19, with the economic and health crisis as the spotlight of controversy. Originated in Wuhan, China, the virus has halted most industrial sectors, paralyzing the world’s economy due to lockdown policy that restricts the activity and mobility of the people. Manufacturing, retail, and tourism sectors are forced to stop operating to support that policy. The situation creates an immense layoff across the industrial sectors that critically hit. The industries are unable to maintain operational funds and labor wages over time.
As a developing country with high reliance on manufacturing, retail, and tourism sectors, the Government of Indonesia is facing a serious complication from the event. Those labour-intensive industries are now crippled, which then influenced the rise of unemployment because the companies were ‘forced’ to lay off some of their workers to avoid or minimize loss due to the crises. As per 20 April 2020, the Minister of Manpower revealed that there were 2,084,593 workers from 116,370 companies that were furloughed and laid off due to the pandemic.
Aside from that, most Indonesian workers are working informally or paid on a daily basis. The research conducted by Indonesian Statistics Centre Agency shows there are currently 70 million informal workers, accounting for 55.72 percent of the total workers in Indonesia. Most informal workers are not guaranteed with the same rights as permanent workers, such as insurance, severance pay upon being terminated, and other benefits. As a result, informal workers that are affected by the pandemic are not adequately protected, such as by being given severance pay when they were forcibly laid off. This condition highly endangers their livelihood such as food, health, and shelter.
In order to cope with the crisis, President Joko Widodo’s administration has launched “Kartu Pra-Kerja” or Pre-Employment Card Program that is specified for workers that are laid-off in addition to the ongoing Family Hope Program and Staple Food Program that targeted low-income families. The implementation of the Pre-Employment Card Program has been controversial and on the brink of off-target as the sole purpose of the program does not intend to ease the main concern of the current crisis. Followed by the increased number of unemployment, President Joko Widodo is urged to see more substantial burden to come with the unresolved main concerns that are piling up.
The authors, however, discuss this matter in the light of human rights and the responsibility of the government towards the issue. We submit other than the role of the companies to re-consider the mass-scale layoff as stated by various governmental and non-governmental institutions as a last resort, the Indonesian government shall have a role in preventing massive layoff, while fulfilling the right to employment security and social security according to international human rights standards.
Massive Layoff In Indonesia And Government’s Response During COVID-19
The huge scale of layoff across the industry is unavoidable as a result of the pandemic. The Indonesian Business Chambers in response to the disrupted economy stated that most businesses are unable to withhold the operation of the businesses and workers when national and international demands are significantly low. There have been workers being laid-off without compensation or any severance pay, particularly businesses in tourism sectors.
The situation of workers that are laid-off are now worrying. Without compensation in the time of the Covid-19 crisis, the workers are prone and in the brink of poverty. A prediction made by the Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani revealed the crisis could push 1.1 million of people into poverty and 2.9 million into unemployment. To ease their burden, the Indonesian Government decided to accelerate the launch of Pre-Employment Card which was initially set to be launched in October 2020.
During the presidential campaign, the Pre-Employment Card Program was promised by President Joko Widodo to train and provide up-to-date skills to increase added-value in the disruptive era of industry for unemployed workers, creating ready-to-work workers with limited skills. Hence, participants who have been into the program are expected to be eligible to work in the current standard of industry.
The Pre-Employment Card Program provides roughly IDR 3.5 million per person qualified for the program and after conducting online training from registered training institutions for instance BukaLapak, Skill Academy, and Tokopedia. The amount of the incentive will be distributed in four months respectively and additional IDR 150,000 once a survey is done by the end of the training. The question that arises next is whether this program is effective to achieve the aim, and whether this policy is in accordance with existing international human rights standards.
The Rights Of Laid-Off Workers And Government’s Duty To Respect, Protect, Fulfill
The correlation between layoff and the responsibility of the Indonesian Government is indicated in the Human Rights Law No. 39 of 1999, which stipulates that: “The protection, promotion, enforcement and fulfilment of human rights are the primary responsibility of the Government.” The article indicates the protection of rights of laid-off workers fall under the responsibility of the government. The Ministry of Manpower has conducted data collection and enforcement of their reporting system for people being furloughed or laid off to be the main targets of the Pre-Employment Card programme. Is it going to be enough?
Under relevant international and national law, every individual is entitled to the right to work, manifested in the Government’s duty to prevent massive layoffs. However, such massive layoffs are inevitable at certain times, and relevant human rights standards below act as legitimate thresholds for any policy taken by the Government. Indonesia protects the right to work of its citizens in Article 27(2) of the Constitution, stating that “Every citizen shall have the right to work and to earn a humane livelihood” and Article 28D(2), which guarantees every person’s “right to work and to receive fair and proper remuneration and treatment in employment.”
The same spirit was then echoed in the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural rights (“ICESCR”) which Indonesia has ratified. Article 6(1) of ICESCR sets forth that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.” Related to this right is employment security, which refers to “the protection of workers against fluctuations in earned income as a result of job loss, which occurs during economic downturns, as part of restructuring, or be related to other various reasons for dismissals” as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). On the other hand, the European Commission measures employment security from the rate of employability and job-to-job transitions of individuals, which include investments in training to boost employability of individuals, income support through unemployment benefits, and appropriate activation strategy to facilitate transitions into employment and boost career development. Both concepts relate to the protection of individuals against job losses, while also enhancing the probability of individuals to gain an income through paid work in the future if job losses are currently inevitable.
According to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), State Parties have the obligation “to assure individuals their right to freely chosen or accepted work, including the right not to be deprived of work unfairly.” The thresholds are further regulated in the General Comments of the ESCR Committee as well as relevant ILO Conventions and Recommendations, where employers are obliged to comply with certain procedures for dismissal of workers.
According to Paragraph 11 of the General Comment of the ESCR Committee No. 18 on the Right to Work, it is stipulated that “ILO Convention No. 158 concerning Termination of Employment (1982) defines the lawfulness of dismissal in its article 4 and in particular imposes the requirement to provide valid grounds for dismissal as well as the right to legal and other redress in the case of unjustified dismissal.” Protection of workers against unlawful dismissal is at the heart of the State’s “duty to protect” in international human rights law.
States have the positive duty under Article 13 paragraph 1 (b) of ILO Convention No. 158 on Termination of Employment, to ensure that termination of employment of workers should not be conducted before taking measures to avert or minimize the terminations, as well as measures to mitigate the adverse effects of any terminations, such as finding alternative employment. Such measures are further stipulated in Recommendation No. 166, which includes restriction of hiring, training and retraining, until reduction of normal hours of work. Such measures are permissible due to temporary economic difficulties, and it should still be consulted with workers.
In addition, the unemployment assistance (such as old-age benefits) or any form of severance pay are also entitled for laid-off workers, based on Article 12 paragraph 1 of the ILO Convention No. 158. ILO has noted the possibility of flexible implementation according to existing social security schemes in each State in its Recommendation No. 166, stating that “different programs or schemes are intended to afford some income protection for workers whose employment is terminated.” This is in adherence with the right to social security under Article 17 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which also imposes obligations to the State Parties to ensure that cash benefits are provided to cover periods of loss of earnings by persons who are requested not to report for work during a public health or other emergency, under Paragraph 16 of the General Comment No. 19 of 2007. Duty to provide training is also enshrined in Paragraph 63 of General Comment No. 23 of 2016, highlighting its accessibility, relevance, and gender-sensitivity for workers in both public and private sectors.
What Should The Government Do?
In accordance with aforementioned human rights standards, the Indonesian Government has to fulfil its duty to ensure that employers will impose layoffs only as the last resort, after measures taken previously are not proven successful, such as conducting restriction of hiring, training and retraining, until reduction of normal hours of work. Despite being permissible due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, employers should consult with workers through bipartite mechanism or even tripartite consultation by involving the Government.
With regards to the pre-employment card which provides training for laid-off workers, it is utilized out of purpose in response to the problem now. The program has sparked controversy across the nation as it does not do to ease the burden that the working class is currently experiencing. In a situation whereby working-class Indonesian represent the middle and lower class that are in urgent need of social assistance, the Pre-Employment Card Program is complicated, ineffective, and insensitive action by the government towards tackling the current crisis. Besides, the program itself does not guarantee job availability for the unemployed, which created another problem. In a situation where economic activity is inhibited that forces a gigantic number of working Indonesian to not receive any income, the government is expected to swiftly act in order to fulfil the essentials of the people who are hit by the effect.
The Government of Indonesia should rather focus on allocating the resources to cover income loss of workers, especially those in a more vulnerable condition, such as workers in the informal economy, temporary workers and those who are not entitled to unemployment benefits or assistance. Social safety net in the form of direct cash and necessities are highly preferable as it is sensitive to scarcity. In support of direct social aid, larger scale and accountable dissemination has to be conducted to ensure aid is delivered accordingly.
Related authority of the Government, such as the Ministry of Manpower should be in charge to map workers experiencing income loss and classifying their skills and working experiences. It is also better if the training programs are not generalized for all workers due to different skills and past working experiences. Reutilization of existing training centres is preferable rather than obliging them to cooperate with certain digital platforms, focusing only on technology-based skills.
On the other hand, the Government of Indonesia should ensure that available job opportunities match with the training programs, and that such jobs generate income in accordance with a decent living standard to support the well-being of workers and their families. Enhanced cooperation with employers or business actors is also needed, especially in providing solutions for job opportunities after COVID-19.
All in all, President Joko Widodo and his administration need to put priority on how to avoid potential upheaval of horizontal conflict. Therefore, stability is the utmost important goal for the President Joko Widodo at hand, and the upcoming predicament by-product of the Pre-Employment Card Program as expected in the future. However, current stability can only be compromised if the urgent need of the affected people – in a form of necessities and social security – is not fulfilled. Rearrangement of prioritized policies must be conducted, considering international human rights standards during the process.
*About the authors:
- Dominique Virgil is a law graduate from Universitas Indonesia.
- Fikri Abirawa Rizki Selo is a law graduate from Universitas Gadjah Mada.
- Kevin Angdreas is a final year undergraduate student in International Relations in Asia Pacific University.
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