Sun, 25 Apr 2010

From: The Jakarta Post

By Editorial, Jakarta Post
Seen from the speed in which the riot spread, there should have been more than a mere racist remark made by an Indian supervisor that triggered the labor unrest at one of the three shipyards of PT Drydocks World Graha on Batam Island, near Singapore, on Thursday morning.

The racist insult yelled by the Indian manager at Indonesian dockyard workers should have only been the tipping point, the last straw in what local laborers complained was discriminative treatment by the company’s management. Otherwise the incident that started only as a fist fight could not have quickly turned into a widespread, violent rampage where thousands of workers ran amok, setting fire to more than 20 cars and ransacking the company’s offices and warehouse and injuring nine people, including six Indian workers.

PT Drydocks World Graha, a unit of the Southeast Asian arm of Dubai Drydocks World, was forced to close all three of its Batam shipyards Thursday even though the riot only took place at the Graha facility.

Yet more worrisome would be the impact of a protracted unrest on other companies because several other shipyards in Batam also employ many Indian laborers.

The local labor office and the fact-finding team from the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry in Jakarta should therefore dig deeper into the roots of the labor unrest to resolve the problem before the incident causes more damage to the economies of Batam and its surrounding islands.

Batam and its nearby islands of Bintan and Karimun have so far thrived mostly on the back of foreign investment and tourists, and their future development, currently as a free trade zone and eventually as a special economic zone, will continue to rely on foreign investors.

As India supplies a huge number of highly-trained and skilled workers at very competitive costs, Indian expatriates are quite popular among foreign and multinational companies, mainly in the positions of supervisors or mid-level management.

Hence, we should live with the reality of more Indian expatriate population among us in line with the inflow of more foreign investment.

Their proximity to Singapore makes Batam, Bintan and Karimun especially suitable for such highly labor intensive industries as shipbuilding not only for ships but also for offshore rigs and facilities.

However, the latest incident should serve as a warning that companies, beside complying with the standard labor regulations, should also realize the delicate task of managing so many workers of such a wide mixture of nationalities with their varying sensitivities to racial comments.

Employers should keep in mind the potential risk of stirring envy and emotional outburst among local workers every time they hire expatriates for supervisory or managerial positions.