29 May 2009

What is a Fair Wage for a Journalist in Jakarta?

The following was originally posted on the English language version of hukumonline, here.

The journalist profession is one that is determined by deadlines. However, a deadline must never be construed as an arbitrary number of working hours. The reality is that journalist might put in many more hours than the minimum to get their story to print on time. It is these time sacrifices that the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen / AJI) seeks to recognize in its annual report on the fair wage for journalists in Jakarta.

AJI is of the view that there are many media companies who do not adequately recognize the contributions of their journalists. In an effort to assist those companies in recognizing a fair universal wage for all journalists AJI has done the research on the company’s behalf and established a fair minimum wage.

So, for the past two years AJI has provided a guideline minimum fair wage for Jakarta-based journalists. The announcement of the 2009 minimum fair wage was made amongst considerable fanfare at the AJI Secretariat in Jakarta on Tuesday (26/05). The number, IDR 4.5 million per month, is not surprising considering that the previous year the minimum fair wage according to AJI was IDR 4.1 million per month. The 2009 figure reflects inflationary pressures. In comparison, the minimum monthly wage for Jakarta’s workers, as set by the Regional Government, stands at around IDR 1 million.

The minimum fair wage applies for all journalists that have been employed for at least 12 months and who have been appointed as permanent employees of the company where they work. The wage is based on the cost of living in Jakarta, but this is not the sole consideration. The minimum wage is based on six core components, namely: cost of food, accommodation, clothing, transportation, telecommunications (such as mobile phones) and other relevant tools of the trade (voice recorders and laptops), and insurance. These figures were gained through an AJI conducted survey.

There is little doubt that in a time of high technology that any equipment that gives a journalist an edge in meeting their deadline or beating a rival journalist to the deadline makes good business sense. However, it remains a little unclear why this is a compulsory component of a fair wage and not something that is at the discretion of employers who might not have the budget flexibility for such expenses. AJI’s response to this is that a reasonable laptop is only IDR 5 million and this is not a substantial expense for a media company.

Similarly, AJI states that the company must not only facilitate the telecommunication equipment needs of their journalists, but must also pay for the use of the equipment. A minimum requirement according to AJI is to provide a monthly allowance for calls and internet connections. This presupposes that the company has already provided the journalists with a mobile phone and a laptop computer.

In addition, to the announcement of the minimum fair wage, there was also considerable discussion of how the minimum fair wage was to be adopted. Simply, the minimum fair wage is to be used as a starting point or benchmark for negotiations between employers and journalists. Unfortunately, there was little discussion regarding what action journalists should take where employers are unwilling to come to the wage party.

Nevertheless, the basic idea is that there is strength in numbers. AJI is actively encouraging journalists to form new unions or join existing unions as a means of developing greater power in the negotiation process. This is a simple, and generally effective, take on the “united we stand, divided we fall” philosophy of unionism.

The other reason for the minimum wage level being set at IDR 4.5 million is that this is considered to be a sufficient amount that will deter journalists from accepting cash incentives to write favourable news. It goes without saying that standard practice in Indonesia currently is for those holding a press conference or other press event to provide a financial or other incentive for journalists to attend.

According to Wahyudyatmika, the Chairperson of AJI’s Jakarta Chapter, a fair wage is critical in ensuring that journalists won’t be tempted into manipulating information or write news that is biased in favour of a particular interest.

An issue that has not been openly discussed is that there are likely many media companies that will claim that they are just not financially capable of paying the AJI determined minimum wage. And, if forced to pay the AJI determined minimum wage then there may be no choice but to lay off other staff in order to balance the books.

In order to counter this issue, AJI is calling on media companies to become more transparent and share company financial information with unions so that any negotiations that journalists or their union representatives enter into can be best described as informed.

Furthermore, AJI is also lobbying the Department of Labor and Transmigration to issue a sectoral wage for journalists that sets the minimum fair wage for journalists. If the government is convinced on this front then the minimum fair wage for journalists in Jakarta would be set in legislation. This would then mean that employers would be required to justify to the relevant government authorities why they are unable to pay the minimum fair wage.

It is unlikely that AJI is going to adopt a name and shame campaign against those media companies not paying the minimum fair wage. However, AJI is encouraging media companies that are not paying their employees the minimum fair wage to consider other opportunities for their journalist staff in lieu of salary such as further education.

The debate about what constitutes a minimum fair wage for journalists is far from resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned. However, open and frank discussion can only be to the benefit of all.


johnorford said...

A fair wage is whatever wage /you/ agree with your employer to work for. Pure and simple

Rob Baiton said...


Long time no hear. I trust all is well with you.

I agree with you. A fair wage is what you agree to work for.

There might be arguments to be made regarding the power relationship between employee and employer, but ultimately if you agree to the terms of the work contract then so be it.