Indonesia nurses battling COVID-19 anxious over pay cuts, delayed bonuses

Indonesia nurses battling COVID-19 anxious over pay cuts, delayed bonuses

Indonesian medical staff prepare a room for patients
Indonesian medical staff prepare a room for patients at the 2018 Asian Games athlete's village which has been converted into a hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients in Jakarta on Mar 23, 2020. (Photo: Hafidz Mubarak A/Pool/AFP)

JAKARTA: Anna (not her real name) is a nurse tending to COVID-19 patients in a Jakarta hospital. 

For the past three months, she has been combating the virus at the frontline to save the lives of her patients. 

And on top of that, she has other things to worry about - pay cut and delay in bonus payment, which her employer attributed to a drop in business due to the pandemic.

“I’m disappointed because I have been working to the best of my capacity.

“I have never said no to taking care of a patient, so why am I not getting a corresponding compensation?” Anna told CNA.

Under normal circumstances, she would take home about 5 million rupiah (US$350) a month, which includes her base salary of about 1.7 million rupiah and other allowances. 

But her remuneration was cut by about 40 per cent in her April paycheck, and about 10 per cent in May.

Furthermore, her Idul Fitri bonus, usually equivalent to one month’s pay and has to be distributed at least seven days before Eid, has been reduced to 1.5 million rupiah.

As a full-time contract nurse, Anna’s salary is paid out from the hospital’s budget, even though it is a government hospital.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Jakarta
Health workers wearing protective suits gesture from the isolation room for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients after taking swab samples, at the emergency unit at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Puzzled by the unannounced cut, she checked with the hospital management and was informed that COVID-19 has taken a toll on the hospital’s profit, hence the reduced paycheck and smaller bonus.  

Anna’s hospital is not the only employer cutting the nurses’ remuneration. The Indonesian National Nurse Association said it has received many complaints on pay cuts and bonus cuts from nurses across the country.

The association believed that this may be just a tip of the iceberg, and that many more nurses are encountering the same problem.

READ: 'We are worried,' say Indonesian healthcare workers as COVID-19 takes toll on medical system

READ: The 79-year-old Indonesian doctor on the frontline of COVID-19 pandemic

PROMISED BONUSES AND ALLOWANCES NOT GIVEN

When the pandemic first hit Indonesia, Anna said the medical staff had to reuse their personal protective equipment (PPE) and make do with equipment that appeared to be made of inferior materials.

After they demanded for better protective gear, they are more well-equipped these days.

“It is really hot wearing a hazmat suit and PPE for hours every day. A few times I got dizzy and my nose also hurts from wearing the goggles,” she related.

She is also in close proximity with COVID-19 patients as she has to bathe them, feed them, and help with operating the ventilators.

After a couple of her coworkers contracted the virus, the hospital housed them at a nearby hotel to spare them from the possibility of spreading the disease to their loved ones back home.

Healthcare workers wearing protective face masks gesture for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pat
FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers wearing protective face masks gesture for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients during a briefing in the emergency room at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

But Anna said the hospital stopped providing lodging and she has to rent a place with two of her colleagues, adding on to her monthly expenses.

Back in March, the hospital management promised a daily 200,000 rupiah allowance to medical staff treating COVID-19 patients.

However, Anna said she has only received the allowance once for the month of March.  

READ: 'There must not be more victims’ - Indonesian volunteers and businesses unite to produce protective gear

She also has not received the 7.5 million rupiah bonus for nurses, as promised by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Anna added that other nurses in her hospital, including the permanent hires, are all facing the same predicament.

“I was told that (the pay cut) was due to a decrease in the number of inpatients, as people were avoiding hospitals due to COVID-19.

“But it had only been a month (since Indonesia saw its first COVID-19 cases and the hospital began accepting patients related to the pandemic). Has it really affected the hospital’s finance that severely?” she said.

Red cross staff wearing protective suits spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of the coronaviru
Red cross staff wearing protective suits spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 31, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

NURSES ASSOCIATION RECEIVED ABOUT 350 COMPLAINTS

A few other nurses also shared their similar experiences with CNA.

A nurse who works at a private hospital in Banten province said although she still receives her full monthly salary, her Idul Fitri bonus was cut because there is a sharp decrease in the hospital's occupancy rate.

She said some workers, like cleaners and security guards who have been with the hospital for less than a year, have also been laid off. 

Another nurse, who works at a COVID-19 referral hospital in East Jakarta, said his salary has been cut by 2.5 per cent in May. Like Anna, he also has not received the incentive that Mr Widodo promised.

READ: COVID-19 - Concerns among some Indonesian hospitals over availability of medical equipment

Indonesian National Nurses Association’s legal aid unit secretary Maryanto said the nurses were afraid to complain directly to the respective manpower agencies, for fear of retribution in the form of sacking or further pay cuts.

About 350 complaints on Idul Fitri bonus cut have been filed with the association since May 15. Through these complaints, the association discovered that the nurses had also been subjected to pay cuts, Mr Maryanto said.

“Looking at the number of complaints, this is a signal of an iceberg phenomenon, this is just the tip of it.

“Only those who are brave are willing to complain. I think there are many who have yet to come forward,” he said.

Mr Maryanto said the association will forward the complaints to the relevant manpower agencies, which are under the Ministry of Manpower.

HOSPITAL IN DEFICIT FOR THREE MONTHS: FINANCE DIRECTOR

Acknowledging that the incentives for health workers have not been disbursed, a Ministry of Finance official said in a press conference last Friday (May 29) that the central government was still waiting for data from each region.

"Who will be paid for how many days, and how many months (has yet to be decided). We are still waiting for the data.

“Some have been provided by the Ministry of Health, and are being verified. Once it is finished, the local government can distribute it," Mr Putut Hari Satyaka, the director-general of fiscal balance, said.

A health worker takes blood sample from a man at a rapid test for coronavirus infection
A health worker takes blood sample from a man at a rapid test for coronavirus infection in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia on May 19, 2020. (Photo: AP/Achmad Ibrahim)

The hospital which Anna works for, meanwhile, told CNA that the management was forced to cut the staff remuneration as a result of financial difficulties.

Fatmawati Hospital’s director of finance Erwin Susanto explained that the hospital’s bed occupancy rate, which was about 60 to 70 per cent prior to the pandemic in Indonesia, has fallen to around 30 per cent in March.

READ: Jakarta likely to be ready for 'new normal' phase after Jun 4, says coordinating minister for economy 

He added that usually the hospital earns about 50 billion rupiah, but in April it only raked in 23 billion rupiah. 

Its operational expenses are 45 billion rupiah a month, so the hospital has been experiencing a deficit for the last three months, he said. 

“We give the remuneration based on (the hospital’s) performance. If the earnings decrease, the remuneration also decreases.

“In April, the remuneration we gave was reduced by around 30 per cent because our revenue fell,” he said.

However, Mr Susanto denied that the hospital has not distributed the Idul Fitri bonus in full. “We paid the bonus according to the regulation of the finance ministry,” he said.

As for the daily allowance of 200,000 rupiah for COVID-19 frontliners, Mr Susanto said the management had made the payment in March but decided to scrap it in April after Mr Widodo pledged incentives for healthcare workers.

Given the hospital’s tough financial situation, Mr Susanto said the measures taken are the best for everyone and the management is trying hard to improve things.

“Trust me, we are fighting for additional funding from the economic affairs ministry, so we are trying to fight for them (the staff),” he said.

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Source: CNA/ks

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