Nurochman

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Indonesia
Fellow Since 1988
LPKB
This description of Nurochman's work was prepared when Nurochman was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1988 .

Introduction

Nurochman works chiefly in the industrialized zone of West Jakarta

The New Idea

Nurochman is setting out to help develop leadership for and to educate thousands of workers regarding their rights and the appropriate action to take when dealing with employers in cases of rights denial and dispute. He plans to publish a newsletter to support both objectives, including reports regarding successes in rights claims.Building from this core of grievance/rights work, he plans to introduce far-ranging services for these workers built around a spreading net of multi-purpose, geographically based co-ops. They would typically include: (1) savings and loan groups to provide capital for micro- or small enterprises; (2) skills exchange centers; (3) transportation services to and from the members' workplaces; and (4) housing. Each co-op would deal with the special needs of its area. (The skills exchange would pool the fragmented skills workers obtain at work to help them launch new small businesses, including helping them to become suppliers to neighborhood factories themselves.)

The Problem

Nurochman reports that the private-sector labor force makes up over 2.4% of Indonesia's total population. The number keeps increasing given urban-oriented development policies which encourage rural people to flock to the cities to seek employment. Most of this labor force are factory workers who are paid, on the average, wages that cover only 50 to 60% of their basic needs. Only a few employers include benefits such as health care, compensation in case of accident, transportation and housing.Having no alternative skills and being ignorant of their rights, the workers are easy victims for exploitation and abuse. SPSI (the Indonesian Labour Association) has not done much to address their problems despite its continuing to accumulate financial resources through a workers' wage deduction.SPSI is a government-created monopoly union. Critics say it often stands on the side of the employer, and that many of its leaders were actually chosen by the employers rather than by the workers. At the same time, SPSI makes the government nervous because of its financial power (which might enable workers to go on strike) and its potential to become a political force. The Ministry of Manpower now insists on being included in all SPSI's planning and decision making, including the allocation of the funds collected from the workers.Other than the SPSI, very few efforts have been made to protect workers' rights and to help them with assistance in legal disputes. The Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (LBH), for one reason or another, also has not been interested in this field. According to Nurochman, LBH has turned down several requests he has made for help on cases.

The Strategy

Nurochman has directly handled a thousand grievance cases, such as those of five employees laid off without benefits. This work, which has spread by word of mouth, together with his educational efforts, has begun to create a number of people who are taking the initiative in other cases. He has also developed a handful of close fellow spirits.Together with the knowledge and contacts he has developed, e.g., in the ministries, this is his base. His plan for the future builds up from this base. His new organization will carry over his current grievance representation work, which will both help attract further volunteers and provide concrete examples for his educational work. His newsletter will further amplify these impacts.He has started work on the multi-purpose worker neighborhood co-ops on a limited basis and plans gradually to expand the number of functions in his initial neighborhood and then spread the basic model from neighborhood to neighborhood.In all this work, he is trying to build bridges to government and industry as well as challenge them. He views the ministries before whom he brings grievances as, at least in part, allies.For this reason, he has been reluctant to invoke the press, since doing so will evoke deep resentment in these agencies. He is also encouraging some of the nascent businesses his workers are launching to become suppliers to area factories and to build long-lasting ties of trust with them.

The Person

Nurochman, the fourth of seven children of a retired military man, grew up in a small south Java town next to the Borobudur Temple. His father did not dictate the resolution of disputes, but rather drew his children into resolving them for themselves.Consequently, Nurochman, never afraid to speak up, has been raising issues all his life. At school, for example, he successfully challenged the teachers' custom of charging the students a fee to cover the costs of the teachers' uniforms.At 18, unable to afford further education, he came to live with an older brother and find work in industrial West Jakarta. He was immediately surrounded by all the hardness, inequality, and the all-too-frequent injustice that is the lot of the zone's workers. Within his first several years he helped win a separation payment; organized many workers in his own cotton spinning company around a health issue; was fired and blacklisted for this last involvement; and was threatened at gunpoint one evening. His next two jobs ended within weeks, once his "record" became known, and a final industrial job came to a similar end as his efforts to organize workers there came to light.He organized a Forum for friends and officially recognized leaders in 1984, but had to proceed less formally. By then his reputation had begun to spread, and he was invited to join the LPKB (Workers' Welfare Development Institute). He gave it renewed strength and it in turn gave him an opportunity to develop his skills and experience. He has also worked with the official SPSI, and two of its officers in their private capacity are among his core supporters.With the help of his colleagues, Nurochman is now ready to launch his own organization, in pursuit of his own vision.