Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Women who wear headscarves accuse Sogo of unfair dismissal

City News - February 14, 2007
Adisti Sukma Sawitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Lila Rohila, 38, had never thought the decision she took last Idul Fitri to wear a headscarf would ever become an issue for her or her company.

After working for 15 years at Sogo Department Store in Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta, she was told to accept a demotion or resign.

"They told me that if I wanted to continue working here and wear my headscarf I had to work in the back office, which would mean a lower salary," she said Tuesday.

The "back office" is the place where merchandise is packed and stored and the stock database compiled. She is now working in food and beverages.

A cashier at the department store, Indarti Subari, 28, has a similar story.

Despite her solid work performance -- reflected by a 12 percent raise last year -- Indarti was also "asked" to resign.

The department store is planning to dismiss 150 employees as its parent company, publicly listed PT Mitra Adiperkasa (MAPI), has decided to close its branch in Plaza Indonesia at the end of the month.

Those whose jobs are at risk include five women who wear the headscarf, security guards and a number of men and women approaching retirement age.

Thirty-seven Sogo employees -- including the five women -- have entered into discussions with the store's management, demanding to work at another branch of Sogo or one of MAPI's retail arms.

Indarti refuses to buy the management's story that staff layoffs are necessary because the company is facing financial difficulties.

"When I asked them whether it was because I wore this (pointing to her headscarf), they refused to comment."

She too was offered a less-visible position.

This is not the first time the company has been accused of discrimination during layoffs. According to the company's labor union, the Independent Labor Union Forum (FSPM), it also dismissed three women in 2002 who had refused to take off their headscarves for work.

MAPI's head of investor relations Ratih D. Gianda told The Jakarta Post it was true the branch would be closed but dismissed allegations Sogo employees had been fired or demoted for wearing the headscarf.

"The decision to put people in customer contact jobs does not rest on whether they wear the headscarf."

She said the company employed a number of women who wore the headscarf in a range of capacities.

Ratih also said the company would comply with the Labor Law, including on severance payments for dismissed employees.

MAPI is one of the largest retailers in Indonesia and the license-holder of Sogo and Debenhams department stores, Starbucks cafes and Kinokuniya bookstores.

The company booked a 16 percent increase in net profit to Rp 132 billion (US$14.5 million) in 2005, while it recorded Rp 35.46 billion in the first half of last year.


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