Indian Catholic News

Indonesian factory tragedy lays bare child labor flaws

Child deaths in blaze at Tangerang fireworks factory expose govt failure to enforce labor, safety rules.

 
Tangerang: 

Sinah could not hold back tears as she held a photograph of her youngest daughter, Siti Fatimah.

Fatimah, 15, died on Oct. 31 several days after being admitted to hospital with severe burns following an explosion at a fireworks factory in Tangerang district, in Indonesia's Banten province.

She was among at least 50 workers who lost their lives as a result of the blast in a factory operated by PT Panca Buana Cahaya Sukses. At least 45 others, mostly women, were injured in the tragedy which was blamed on a spark from welding work igniting fireworks.

"My daughter had only worked there for a week. She wanted to earn some money to help me and her father," Sinah said.

Fatimah dropped out of junior high school in August after her father could no longer work delivering coconuts to restaurants because of illness. She had worked at a balloon factory for a month but decided to quit and get a job at the fireworks factory because it was closer to her parents' house.

Fatimah worked nine hours a day, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and was paid 40,000 rupiah (about US$2.94) per day for wrapping fireworks.

"I did not want my daughter to work there, but she insisted," said Sinah, a housewife with five children.

Fatimah was not the only child victim in the tragedy. Several other workers aged below 18 were reported killed in the fire, one of the country's worst industrial accidents in recent memory.

Child labor still a problem

For the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), the tragedy highlighted government negligence in cracking down on child labor, especially in dangerous occupations.

According to the Central Statistics Agency, there are an estimated 4 million children aged between 5-17 working in Indonesia. Of that number, 1.76 million are aged below 15.

The figures are high despite the government, through the Manpower Ministry, committing to eradicate child labor by 2022. The government has also ratified the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, the ILO Minimum Age Convention, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Also a 2003 labor law states that 15 is the minimum age for regular employment. Children aged between 13-15 may only perform light tasks that are not dangerous and do not interfere with their schooling, while children aged under 18 are prohibited from performing hazardous work, including work in environments with harmful chemical substances.

"The factory violated the law. We have written to Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri, asking him to immediately deal with the case," KPAI commissioner Sitti Hikmawatty said soon after the tragedy.

According to the KPAI, many companies still hire children. They mainly work in factories as well as in mining and agriculture.

"I believe the number continues to grow," she said, adding that KPAI estimated there were 2.7 million child workers aged under 15 in Indonesia in 2015, about 1 million more than the Central Statistics Agency estimate.



Lack of workplace safety

According to local authorities, the fireworks factory began operating in August and only had 27 registered workers. However, 103 workers were working there prior to the accident.

The factory building, located close to a school, had no emergency exits, which shocked many when safety procedures should have been of a higher standard as the factory produced and stored flammable materials.

"Based on our inspection, the building was more like a warehouse than a factory if we consider its safety equipment facilities," Manpower Minister Dhakiri said.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said the factory’s owner, Indra Liono, and director Andri Hartanto had been charged with negligence that resulted in death, as well as violating laws on under-aged workers, The Australian reported.

"The two claimed that they didn’t know that children were working at the factory, saying that a foreman was handling the recruitment," Constable Yuwono said.

The tragedy prompted parliamentarians to meet local government officials to discuss workplace safety. The meeting revealed that Banten province still lacked officials, whose task it is to monitor workplace safety.

The province has 14,327 companies, but there are only 71 safety inspectors.

"Central and local governments need to coordinate. A regular check on workplace safety is a must," Azas Tigor Nainggolan, coordinator of the Indonesian bishops' Advocacy and Human Rights Forum, said.

Source: UCAN

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