Sat, 01 Oct 1994

For greater affinity

It may not have been one of the more spectacular events that occurred during the past week, but a number of parties certainly deserve credit for sponsoring the workshop on Indonesian customs and traditions that was oeganized on Thursday by the Directorate General for Industrial Relations in Jakarta. After all, little things do mean a lot in Indonesia, where feelings and non- rational considerations still often determine how people behave in certain situations.

In particular, credit for excellent foresight must go to the directorate general mentioned and to the Korean Employers Federation (KEF), which, together with the Association of Indonesian Employers (APINDO), sponsored the event.

The fact that South Korean business and industrial investments take a prominent place in the Indonesian economy at present, surely makes it worthwhile for Koreans and Indonesians to try to bridge the cultural gap that exists between the two peoples.

According to South Korean embassy officials, Indonesia is the second most favored destination for investments at present. The 296 South Korean projects that are now operating in this country are worth more than US$3.6 billion, which is about 70 percent of all South Korean investments in the ASEAN region. But while this may seem like a most commendable situation, it seems that with the growth of South Korea's investments here, the labor troubles that have affected that country's industrial projects have also increased in both number and magnitude.

The phenomenon, actually, is not an unfamiliar one. It may be remembered that certain Japanese industrial projects were also afflicted by a similar situation, especially during the 1970s when Japanese investments were growing at a record pace in Indonesia. Although purely labor problems may have at the base of many of those conflicts, it seemed that misunderstandings springing from cultural differences quite often also acted as the fuel that worsened the frictions.

That may have been the reason why such seemingly simple pieces of advice as "never give or take with your left hand", or "never pat a person on the head" were given by speakers during yesterday's workshop. Indeed, according to a senior official of the Ministry of Manpower, seemingly trivial mistakes, such as giving with the left hand, or pointing with a foot, could quite easily be taken as an intentional affront and instigate an industrial conflict that could be hard to end once it has erupted.

In the final analysis, of course, it takes an effort on both sides of a conflict to settle the problems and achieve a harmonious relationship. Ideally, it would be wise to educate the Indonesian workers as well to prepare them to understand, if not accept, the cultural differences that could make themselves apparent in any multi-racial relationship.

As the Director General for Industrial Relations, Suwarto, remarked during the workshop, however, the relatively low level of education of the average Indonesian industrial worker makes this difficult to realize. For all those reasons we believe that yesterday's workshop deserves to be taken seriously. Small as the effort may seem, it could make the difference between conflict and harmony in industrial relations in this country.