Friday, October 20, 2006

Floating fish trap workers to stay at sea at Idul Fitri

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Asahan

Sadness is clearly visible on the face of Sijon Upong, a 16-year-old worker at a floating fish trap facility off Beting Bawal waters in Asahan regency, North Sumatra, as he will be unable to celebrate Idul Fitri with his family this year.

Sijon has been forced to bury his hopes of joining Idul Fitri celebrations as his employer turned down his request to go home.

Even though he is disappointed, Sijon, continues executing his duties well -- lowering the fish net, pulling it up and wrapping cooked and dried fish.

The adolescent, who did not finish elementary school, disclosed Thursday he had worked at the floating fish trap, anchored about 3.5 kilometers from the shoreline, for the last two months.

Sijon explained that working at the fish trap facility was tiring as he and dozens of other workers had virtually no free time.

"I can only rest when it's time to sleep. Sleep itself is brief as we have to get up early in the morning," Sijon said, disclosing that he is always supervised by his senior.

Sijon was looking forward to getting together with his family during Idul Fitri, even though he had worked there for a short time.

"This is the first time that I will not be with my family during Idul Fitri," he said.

Sijon is one of 22 minors who have not been permitted to go home. They are among 70 workers employed at 15 fish trap facilities near Asahan.

Most of them have already worked more than two months with wages ranging from Rp 200,000 (US$21.05) to Rp 250,000 per month.

Herman, another 16-year-old boy working at the floating facility, shared Sijon's feelings, saying he had worked at the floating facility for seven months.

However, Herman has not received a single cent from his employer. He previously planned to used his wages to buy new shoes and clothes.

Herman said he was also sad that he was not allowed to go home. "I asked permission several times but was always turned down as it is feared there will be no workers to operate the fishing traps," he said.

Herman explained that due to the hard work and harsh conditions, most of the workers were unable to fast as they were rarely sent food by their employers.

"Our food supplies are sent here once a week. The supplies are very limited, they run out before the next supplies arrive," said Herman, who admitted he was fasting despite the absence of food to break the fast.

Herman explained that the owners of the fishing traps stayed in the North Sumatra capital of Medan and other cities, including Tanjung Balai and Asahan.

Responding to the plight of fish trap workers, director of the Child Protection and Assessment Center Ahmad said he was very shocked to hear of it.

He urged all related institutions, especially law enforcers, to take actions against employers who did not allow their workers to go home to celebrate Idul Fitri.

"Law enforcers have to empty the fish trap facilities at least three days before Idul Fitri," he said.


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