May Day marks pain, not celebration for workers hit by virus

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – May Day usually brings both protest rallies and celebrations rallies marking international Labor Day. This year, many in Asia are shut up at home, riding out the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the ten of millions of people left idle or thrown out of work by the crisis, garment workers have been among the hardest hit as orders dry up and shutdowns leave factories shuttered, giving workers plenty to protest at a time when lockdowns are keeping them at home.

Wiryono, a father of two was laid off from his main job as a sample producer at a garment factory in North Jakarta in late April.

His side gig, delivering coffee by motorcycle to construction workers, dried up when work halted as part of Indonesia’s shutdown to fight the pandemic. So, for now Wiryono has rented a small space and runs a clothing repair shop.

“I don’t earn as much as I got from the clothing factory. But I have to feed my wife and kids every day,” he said.

A woman closes her shop at Tanah Abang textile market that is closed due to the new coronavirus outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP

Millions of jobs have vanished in countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar that rely heavily on garment manufacturing as fashion brands cancelled or suspended billions of dollars’ worth of orders.

More than two million garment factory workers in Indonesia have lost their jobs, and factories are operating at about 20 per cent of capacity, according to the Indonesian Textile Association.

In Cambodia, which also relies heavily on apparel, footwear and textile exports, about 130 factories have laid off some 100,000 people, said Heng Sour, spokesman for the Labour Ministry.

The country’s 1,000 clothing and shoe factories normally employ nearly 800,000 people and shipped nearly USD10 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe last year.

“COVID-19 is like a faceless murderer or terrorist, killing several hundred thousand people and infecting millions around the globe,” Heng Sour said. Like many other governments, Cambodia has asked workers to forego the usual rallies and protests and celebrate Labor Day at home.