Sat, 04 Aug 2001

Porters the backbone of Sunda Kelapa Port

By Muninggar Sri Saraswati

JAKARTA (JP): It is morning and the Sunda Kelapa Port in North Jakarta is busy. Several cargo ships are docked and dozens of porters are waiting nearby, enjoying this brief moment of rest. When a truck arrives, they rush to the vehicle. Minutes later, they are busy hauling goods to a ship.

It is a daily scene at the port. Some porters carry goods from a truck to a ship, while others haul goods from a ship to a truck.

The porters are essential to the operation of the port, and without their backbreaking labor business would grind to a halt.

One of the porters is the 35-year-old Arifin, a native of West Nusa Tenggara. Physically, he is not what one would expect from someone who earns a living with his muscles. Arifin is a thin man, with skin darkened by the sun and a tired face. But he is strong enough to lift hundreds of kilograms of goods on his back.

He has been a porter for more than four years. Before this, he was a crewman on a ship, but he quit because he could not stand being away from his family for months at a time.

"I can make enough money for my family from this job," Arifin remarked, saying he earned as much as Rp 30,000 (US$3) a day and usually worked five days a week.

Each working day, along with some 30 other porters, he loads or unloads at least two big trucks. The porters mostly handle cement, logs and staple foods, though sometimes they also move imported motorcycles.

In his years as a porter, Arifin, a father of three, has never had an accident.

He realizes the risks of his job, but he believes all jobs have their own dangers.

Asked how he maintained his strength and stayed healthy, he remarked: "I stay healthy by eating a lot. Lifting heavy items is also exercise, right?"

Another porter, Parlindungan, 21, was quick to admit that the work was hard, though he said he was happy to have the job.

While Arifin is an elementary school graduate, Parlindungan, who has been working as a porter for over six months, graduated from high school in Porsea, North Sumatra.

He struck out for Jakarta right after Christmas two years ago. He spent almost a year looking for work to no avail. When a friend offered him work as a porter, he jumped at the chance.

"At first, (each day) I could only lift several bags of cement, which weighed 50 kilograms each. It felt like my body was shattering. But I can manage it now," he said.

He now moves at least 50 bags of cement a day, and is happy to earn Rp 30,000 for his labor.

Parlindungan said he was still looking for a better job and was confident that sooner or later something would come up.

Jhoni, one of dozens of foremen at the port, said each foreman was responsible for about 100 porters. He said the work was well organized to avoid any conflict between the porters.

The foreman acknowledged that working as a porter was risky, considering that an accident could happen at any time.

When a porter is injured, his colleagues never fail to rally around him, especially in helping him and his family out with money.

A staff member with the Sunda Kelapa Port Administration, Mohammad Ali, said there were about 2,000 porters loading and unloading the five to 10 cargo ships that docked at the port every day.

The ships come from as far away as Kalimantan and Sumatra, delivering lumber, kaolin and other items to the port, while ships from Jakarta are loaded with cement, vehicles and daily goods for delivery to the regions.

Sunda Kelapa Port has a rich history, and played a central role in the development of the city. At one time, the port was one of the biggest business centers in the world, visited by ships from all parts of the archipelago, as well as from China, Vietnam, Thailand, India and a number of Middle Eastern and European countries.

Though its glory days may be behind it, the port continues to play an important role in the movement of goods around Indonesia, a role that would be impossible without the hard work of the porters.