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Unpaid garment workers in Indonesia target South Korea

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21 March, 2019More than 200 workers from a garment factory producing for global brands such as K-Mart, Target and Disney, demonstrated in front of the Indonesia Ministry of Manpower Office and the Embassy of South Korea in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 14 March, demanding six-months unpaid wages and benefits.

PT Selaras Kausa Busana (SKB) garment factory, located in Bekasi, West Java Province employed 4,000 workers, who are nearly all women, before it was abruptly abandoned by its South Korean owner in October last year.

The protesting workers, who are members of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN), demanded unpaid wages, social security premiums and severance pay on behalf of 2,000 workers who lost their jobs without any explanation in August and September last year.

Factory owner Kim Jae-Chul fled to Korea with 97 billion IDR (US$6.8 million) and shut down the factory in October 2018 leaving the workers and their families on uncertain conditions.

President of the factory union at SKB, President Miss Verawati, said:

“It is an obligation of the Indonesian government to protect their citizens’ rights and the Korean government bears responsibility due to the Korean owner’s illegal gain from the factory. We want the owner, Kim Jae-chul, to be brought back to Indonesia and pay back the workers’ salaries and other benefits. We also call on brands that sourced from SKB to take responsibility for workers in their supply chain. We want our rights.”

Workers at SKB have been earning lower than the Bekasi minimum wage since 2013, after SKB requested a wage-postponement to the Indonesian government. The factory, which began operating in 1990, has very poor working conditions, with bad ventilation, poor and dirty toilets, and no meals or canteens at the workplace. Workers also had to work long hours to meet company targets.

The workers formed a picket line outside the factory and applied to the Bekasi Labour Office to ask for mediation. However, the company management failed to make an agreement at the mediation meeting in November 2018. The union, SPN, has since filed a case at the Industrial Relations Court in Bandung and is preparing a new lawsuit with the Ministry of Manpower against the factory owner on the grounds of corruption.  

News that the company had failed to pay wages to more than 3,000 employees gained widespread media attention in South Korea, and on 7 March the country’s president, Moon Jae-in, ordered a probe into SKB. The government is also due to carry out a fact-finding mission to Indonesia.

The situation at SKB is not an isolated case, according to SPN President, Djoko Heriyono, who says there are dozens more South Korean garment investors who have run away and fled to their home country.

SPN and the LIPS (Sedane Labour Resource Centre) have begun working together to expose South Korean direct investments in Indonesia that are violating Indonesian labour laws by paying under the national minimum wage, forcing workers to work long hours in precarious conditions or engaging in verbal or non-verbal violence. This cooperation already identified 22 such Korean garment investors in the country.