Since 2019, there have been 20 cases of fetal deaths in pregnant workers, comprising 14 miscarriages and six stillbirths, at the Singaporean Aice Ice Cream factory in Cikarang, West Java. High workloads, night shifts and poor and dangerous working environments have been asserted as the likely reasons for these deaths.
Around 600 workers of PT Alpen Food Industri (AFI) including 21 pregnant women went on strike from Feb. 21 and will continue striking until March 30. Among the demands were that working conditions, the alleged root cause of multiple fetal deaths in recent years, need to be immediately addressed.
Dina Ratna Sari, 27, had a miscarriage at seven weeks of pregnancy in November. Although her main job was developing reports and stamping boxes, she said, “Lifting is inevitable in every production section and job area”.
She then suffered from bleeding after lifting 25 kilograms of plastic rolls, which then led to a miscarriage.
Dina and other workers were speaking to The Jakarta Post at the AFI labor union office in West Cikarang on Saturday.
“Once there was an inspection and the company told the inspector that lifting remains the helper’s job. That’s not true,” she said, adding she still had to carry boxes — weighing up to 14 kilograms — some 10 times a day.
Another worker Anis Kurniati, 34, said she waited for three weeks before being transferred to a less physically strenuous job during her pregnancy. But even after she moved, the workload was still intense as the task she was given was to fold cardboard into ice cream boxes by matching the machine speed.
“The manager was so controlling that a machine running slower than 128 pieces of ice cream per minute was considered too slow. The speed would only be reduced to 120 or 116 pieces if there was an inspection,” said the 32-weeks-pregnant woman.
Pregnant women working for AFI rotate in all three shifts, including from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Currently, there are 91 pregnant women working at the Aice factory.
The problem with working night shifts, Anis said, was the drowsiness because they must walk up and down the ladder, which is often narrow and slippery.
Article 76 of the 2013 Manpower Law forbids companies from sending pregnant workers to work from 11 p.m. to 7.a.m if a doctor says it is threatening the pregnancy.
Bekasi Regency Bylaw No. 4/2016 even prohibits companies from employing women at night during her pregnancy and nursing period until the baby is 24 months old.
“But the problem is the company would reject even if we have a doctor letter. They only approve the letter made by the medical facilities recognized by the Health Care and Social Security Agency [BPJS Kesehatan],” Dina said.
PT AFI spokesman Simon Siagian, however, denied such allegations, saying in a written statement on Monday that the company approved letters from any doctor but the letter would need to be verified by the company’s doctor.
The spokeswoman of the company’s labor union legal team, Sarinah, said the company’s doctor could not be trusted as they belong to the company.
Dina said BPJS clinics were in cahoots with the company too.
“Many of us were told ‘Don’t come too often, the company phoned us’,” she said. Many reported the clinics only gave them letters stating they “went for treatment but were not sick”.
“Workers are also forced to keep working while they are sick,” she added.
Anis said the company did give sick leave for employees with “went for treatment” letters, and cut the worker’s salary. “If we’re sick and want to rest, the only option is using our paid leave quota,” she added.
She said that getting a sick permit was very difficult because approvals had to be obtained from four to five levels in the factory leadership.
Sarinah said the company’s act was violating Article 93 Clause 2 of the 2013 law which requires a company to pay the salary for sick workers including women who were not able to work in the first two days of their period.
“Breaking such a law carries criminal offences,” she said.
Many pregnant workers reported that the manager — a foreigner — told them “pregnancy was not good for productivity”. Before 2017, any laborer who got pregnant was even asked to resign.
Simon said the workload in the company was not excessive, given that the target was below the maximum production capacity.
“We only aim for 5,000 to 6,000 boxes of ice cream a line a day. While the maximum capacity is 7,000,” he told the Post.
However, Anis said she could make up to 2,500 boxes a shift, far more than the target of 1,980 boxes, due to the speed of the machine.
Simon further denied that the fetal deaths that occurred at the company were due to the work conditions, including working night shifts.
He said the company’s clinic cooperated with Harapan Sehat Hospital to investigate the matter. “The team found that the highest risk factor leading to miscarriage is having sex during the first trimester,” Simon said.
However, a 2019 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology said pregnant women with night shifts were 23 percent more likely to have miscarriages.
It was also difficult for women workers to get maternity leave as they must write a handwritten and stamped statement letters in which the workers promise not to sue the company if “an unfortunate event takes place in the
The labor union requested an inspection with the Bekasi Regency Manpower Agency in November 2019 but only got one on Feb. 17.
“However, the agency inspectors were biased and almost refused to talk to the women workers,” said Sarinah.
On Feb. 27, the workers went to the Manpower Ministry and filed an official request for the ministry to examine the working conditions at PT AFI. (aly)