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INDONESIA

Advertising writer dies after ‘30-hour shift’ at global agency in Indonesia

Stepfather refuses to lay blame, insisting the girl he raised was on the cusp of success; critics are unhappy with employer's work arrangements

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 10:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 2:48am
 

Pradnya Paramita, the young Indonesian woman who reportedly collapsed after working 30 hours straight, was just entering a “high note” in her career before her passing, her stepfather said on Wednesday, as he gave details about her last days.

The 27-year-old’s death caused a stir on social media after it was reported she had worked excessively long hours at her advertising company, and even prompted a legislative inquiry into the firm’s work practices.

The work culture was not healthy when I was there. Too much overwork
A FORMER COMPANY EMPLOYEE

But Zafrul Sjahrial, who married Paramita’s mother years ago and raised her as his own, refused to assign blame over her death.

“My daughter was strong. I know she knows what it takes to be in the advertising industry,” he told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, following the funeral.

Paramita worked at US-based multinational firm Young & Rubicam, whose clients include Dell, Colgate, Xerox and Citibank, as a copy writer.

 “Life in advertising is not like working in a bank or any other institution. The long hours are expected and already a prerequisite,” said Sjahrial, a creative director who has 35 years’ experience in advertising and marketing. “I know how the industry works. Other industries are doing worse than this.”

He said they would not take action against Y&R, as they simply wanted their daughter to rest in peace.

Paramita, who identified herself in social media as Mita Diran, earned a mass communication degree and worked for a digital magazine in Malaysia, where Sjahrial was based, before trying her hand at advertising two years ago, following in her stepfather’s footsteps.

“She liked to write and write. She loved reading books and could finish Harry Potter in one day. She was very bright, strong-headed and she knows what she wants,” he said.

Weeks before her death, Paramita even earned national awards for her advertising work.

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Sjahrial also expressed exasperation at reports her daughter worked 30 hours straight, describing them as “overblown”.

“There must be lunch breaks and dinner breaks, there must have been walks around the office.

“For a young lady – for 30 hours – she wouldn’t want to stay in the same clothes the whole day,” he said.

He added he believed a tweet she posted a little before 7pm on Saturday, hours before she collapsed and slipped into a coma, was an upbeat note after wrapping up work.

In her last Twitter post, she said: “30 hours of working and still going strooong.”

“She’s so enthusiastic and passionate. That tweet is by a girl ready for the next step,” he said.

That afternoon, Paramita returned home and agreed to have dinner at around 10pm with a friend from out of town who had been waiting to see her for days, Sjahrial said. The friend and three others who joined the meal told Paramita’s parents later that she collapsed at the restaurant shortly after ordering food.

“When we received the call, I was about to go to bed around 12.30am, and my wife and I rushed to the hospital,” he said. “When I arrived, my daughter was already on life support.”

“On the way to the hospital, her heart stopped, she stopped breathing,” he said.

Still in shock, Sjahrial sent a private instant message to his staff and colleagues breaking the sad news, with a note warning against overworking. The message was later leaked on social media.

By Sunday, Paramita had passed away.

Working against the clock

Sjahrial said Paramita – like many other workers and even university students in the city – habitually drank energy drinks every few days to stay up and finish work. The drink Krating Daeng has been blamed as one of the exacerbating factors in her collapse.

“She would come to the house and whenever her mum saw bottles of energy drinks, she would put them away and say, ‘Don’t touch that’,” he said.

“But even during university, she would use it to stay up doing assignments – but nobody tried to sue the prinicipal.”

“She was trying to complete a pitch. But [consuming energy drinks] was not an instruction from the company,” he said.

A former employee in Y&R Jakarta’s art department, who said he saw Paramita around the office whenever he visited his former colleagues, said work at the company was unhealthy.

“The work culture was not healthy when I was there. Too much overwork. Sometimes we had to work and brainstorm at the weekends to achieve more awards [and] pitches,” he said.

Young & Rubicam is an advertising agency headquartered in New York, with around 6,500 employees in offices around the globe, according to its website.

Inquiries

In the wake of Paramita’s death, Sie Zin Lie, Y&R’s regional finance director in Southeast Asia, said the company was “finding out what happened, internally”.

“Our utmost priority at the moment is to provide all the support and prayers for Mita’s family, as well as for Y&R Indonesia’s employees in mourning,” Sie told the South China Morning Post in an e-mail.

Asked what Paramita was working on that required her to work long hours, Sie refused to say, citing the firm’s projects as confidential.

But, Sie stressed: “Y&R implements working standards in accordance with advertising industry standards in Indonesia and the region.”

“Y&R Indonesia’s management has also conducted an internal discussion and listened to aspirations from the employees on how to make things even better in terms of work in our company.”

If people want to blame anybody, it’s the whole industry, not one company
Stepfather Zafrul Sjahrial

The Jakarta unit closed its office on Monday to pay their respects, Y&R said.

Already, the news has sparked action in Indonesia, where a lawmaker has proposed an inquiry into the matter. The Bangkok Post reported that Djamal Aziz, a member of a manpower commission in the House of Representatives said it would summon a representative of Y&R to brief lawmakers, and that it might bring the case to court if Paramita was proven to have worked excessive hours.

“It’s not fair. My daughter is dead, the company is running an [inquiry]. If people want to blame anybody, it’s the whole industry, not one company,” Sjahrial said.

This case is the latest to highlight death after apparently over working. In August, 21-year-old German-born Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt was found dead in the shower of his London flat after a non-stop 72-hour shift. An inquest found he died of an epileptic seizure. Merrill Lynch was a one-time client in the '80s.

In May this year, a Chinese advertising employee at Ogilvy & Mather China collapsed at his desk from a heart attack after working overtime each night. Ogilvy has denied the 24-year-old died from overwork.

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