Sat, 01 Oct 1994

Expats need to learn Indonesian customs

JAKARTA (JP): Never give or take with your left hand. Never pat someone on the head even if it is well intended. And never point with your foot.

These are some of the don'ts which foreign managers should know when working in an Indonesian environment.

They may sound simple and some Indonesians may take it for granted that expatriates already know about these things.

They couldn't be more wrong.

According to a senior official of the Ministry of Manpower, violations of simple things like giving with the left hand or pointing with a foot could become a source of industrial conflict as far as relations go between workers and their foreign managers.

A general depiction of Indonesia's customs and cultural values is absolutely necessary for foreign companies employing Indonesian workers in order to avoid conflicts between managers and workers, Director General for Industrial Relations Suwarto.

Speaking after opening a one-day workshop his office organized with South Korean expatriates in Indonesia on Thursday, Suwarto said some of the simple violations of norms and cultures have resulted in conflicts, including strikes, at industrial plants.

The seminar was attended by some 70 South Korean managerial- level employers assembled in the Korean Employers' Federation (KEF). It was sponsored by Association of Indonesian Employers (APINDO).

"We feel that foreigners need to have a better understanding of our system ... that way good relationships between employers and workers can develop," Suwarto said.

He said similar workshops had been held in the past with Japanese and American expatriates.

South Korean investors are now making major inroads into Indonesia as they are relocating many of their industries chiefly to take advantage of cheap labor.

South Korean embassy officials said that Indonesia is the second most favorite destination for Korean investors. There are now 296 South Korean investment projects in Indonesia with a combined value of more than $3.6 billion. This represents about 70 percent of all South Korean private investment in ASEAN countries.

Industrial relations in some of these Korean companies however have not been smooth. Some South Korean joint ventures in Tangerang and other industrial centers have seen many labor conflicts which were chiefly attributed to poor labor relations.

Last year, a woman worker at a South Korean company in Tangerang was made to stand under the scorching sun for hours following an argument with the Korean manager. The incident sparked criticisms over the way Korean expatriates behave.

Cultural shock

KEF Deputy Chairman Jung Hyun- whang admitted that many Korean employers suffered cultural shock when they arrive in Indonesia.

An understanding of local cultural values is urgently needed to avoid conflicts, he said. "I see this seminar as a good way to prevent conflicts and to promote relations between the people of the two countries," he said.

Secretary General of the All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI) Bomer Pasaribu who attended the seminar confessed however that in general, foreign companies operating in Indonesia are more accepting of labor laws than Indonesian companies.

"However, among foreign firms, Korean companies demonstrate the poorest conduct in dealing with their Indonesian workers ... That is why this seminar is necessary for them," Bomer said.

Some Korean employers however have been complaining about the poor discipline of Indonesian workers, a far cry from the army of highly industrious and disciplined work force they are accustomed to at home.

Suwarto acknowledged that the relatively low level of education of Indonesian workers tends to increase their level of emotion and pessimism, but also leads to greater solidarity among them.

He stressed that employers have an obligation to abide by the labor regulations and respect workers' rights. (pwn)

Editorial -- Page 4