Spectre of unemployment mars holiday
GREG TORODE in Jakarta
This could be the last week in work for many Indonesians now bracing themselves for mass unemployment.
As stores, factories and workshops close for the Idul Fitri festival on Friday marking the end of the Muslim Ramadan fast, there are fears many will not reopen.
Already, many workers have not been paid annual bonuses of up to two months' wages that traditionally accompany the end of Ramadan.
'I am going home to celebrate in peace with my family and not think about the future too much,' said Azwar, a 32-year-old unemployed labourer who joined the exodus of rural workers at Jakarta's Kota Station this weekend.
'I wanted to make good money in Jakarta to help my family. Now I am better off going home to stay with them. I just don't know what the year will bring, but I don't think I will ever come back to Jakarta.' Growing numbers of unemployed men are turning up each day at the capital's Kota Port, where thousands of workers are needed to load the ancient schooners that ferry supplies to the islands.
The work is dangerous and hard - only those who can shoulder at least 50 kilograms are accepted. Newcomers frequently collapse with exhaustion before finishing a nine-hour shift and payment depends on how many sacks are loaded.
'Working at the dock is the hardest work in the city,' one longshoreman said. 'And with all these men turning up looking for work, they will hurt themselves if they are not used to it.' Latest figures from the Government's Manpower Ministry warn some one million workers will join the estimated 2.7 million unemployed during the next year.
Private economists describe the figures as 'grossly conservative' and warn the figure of newly unemployed could reach two million by June.
'Already we have seen lay-offs but by far the worst are going to come after Ramadan,' one said. 'The real pain is about to hit.' Mass lay-offs combined with possible hyperinflation should the rupiah stay at the 30-year low reached last week are widely expected to fuel unrest in towns and cities across the archipelago.
Already some foreign embassies are drawing up contingency plans to evacuate nationals, while others are advising people to stay indoors at signs of trouble.
Tensions are expected to rise ahead of the banned Lunar New Year celebrations, reflecting widespread suspicion among Indonesians of the wealthy ethnic Chinese traders and shopkeepers.