Labor pains: Challenges of women journalists in Medan

Written by: Nurni Sulaiman and Ramdeswati Pohan
Photos by: Nurni Sulaiman


For Medan journalists, being pregnant is both a blessing and a burden.

Forum Jurnalis Perempuan Indonesia (FJPI, Indonesian Women Journalists Forum) shared experiences of their members who were dismissed from employment during their pregnancy. Based in North Sumatra, FJPI is a network of women that use their roles as journalists to advocate for gender equality and strengthen capacity of the press in a democracy.

Mahbubah Lubis, 33, was a reporter at the State Radio (RRI) in Medan. As of press time, she is in her fifth month of pregnancy.

“(Three of us) were laid off for no apparent reason,” said Mahbubah, who is called Budi by her friends. She added that there were no prior notices or warning letters if they did make mistakes.

“We were also dismissed without any written notice, being fired verbally when we were invited to a meeting at the office.”

Journalists Mahbubah Lubis (left) and Clara Julieta Lumbantoruan were dismissed from state radio RRI in Medan on 1 January 2018.

The three dismissed media workers protested the dismissal. Budi said that both the RRI headquarters in Jakarta and RRI Medan did not recognize them as (regular) workers in RRI Medan but only as “performers.” But in fact, they worked as reporter and broadcasters.

“We can prove that we are RRI workers, and that we’ve been working there for a long time,” said Budi. They have as proof their RRI ID cards and letters of duty received during their employment. “And obviously, our IDs were signed by the person in charge (human resource department) at the RRI headquarter,” added Budi.

Feeling mistreated, the three went to a law office to redress their problems with RRI Medan. FJPI has provided assistance until the case is resolved.

Center for Legal Studies and Justice Reform (Pushpa) chairman Muslim Muis said that the reasons for the unilateral dismissal of the three employees from RRI Medan are not clear.

“If the reason for the dismissal is that they violated procedure or even (committed) a crime (then it) might (have merited the) dismissal. (But) then, they should (have been) given a warning letter. This won’t do, without any errors and notice of being terminated from RRI. Yet based on the ID card and letter of duty, it signified that they worked there,” said Muslim.

Despite the lack of a response from RRI, Pushpa’s legal aid center and FJPI are ready to help bridge between the concerned parties.

“We were taking steps to solve the (case). But if (they do) not respond, we would report to the police or file a lawsuit,” said Muslim.

Clara Julieta Lumbantoruan (first right), Mahbubah Lubis (third right), and MA Toni Marpaung (fourth left) were dismissed unilaterally from RRI. Photo taken at the Center of Legal Studies and Judicial Reform (Pushpa) on 24 February 2018 in JL Sukamulia, Medan, North Sumatra.

Indonesia’s 2003 Law on Manpower (labor code) prohibits the dismissal of employees because of pregnancy.

Budi has worked as a reporter for years and in the last five had suffered two miscarriages caused by lack of rest. She shared that sometimes she had to work continuously from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight. She thanks God that she is now on her fifth month of pregnancy and expecting her first birth.

Last year, another FJPI member – Amelia – was dismissed from employment during pregnancy: “I was forced to sign the termination of employment with no proper allowance.” As of press time, she is on her ninth month and is expected to give birth anytime soon.

Ramdeswati Pohan, head of FJPI, said that the women’s organization is committed to fight with and support Budi and her colleagues until matters are resolved.

Some labor issues that journalists face in Indonesia have included unfair terms of work, unsafe working environments, low wages, absence of overtime pay, media owner interventions, and advertiser pressures.

In 2017 and the early part of this year, there were a number of mass retrenchments in state and privately owned media companies. In one case, at least 40 employees including three of FJPI members were fired or were forced to sign a termination of employment contract. Their years of service in these companies range from three (3) to more than 10 years. The journalists often work for more than 10 hours a day. They were not paid properly and nor were they given social security or health insurance.

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