The Jakarta Post
Millions of people are feeling the pinch of the current economic and public health crises. However, one particular group stands out among those who have lost their income namely ojol (online motorcycle taxi app) drivers.
They have received special attention and more aid than other workers experiencing the same ordeal. For example, state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina has announced that 10,000 ojol drivers will be eligible for 50 percent cashback when they purchase non-subsidized fuel through the firm’s app MyPertamina.
Last week, security officers handed out some 400 staple food packages to ojol drivers from the trunk of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s car in Central Jakarta.
The gesture followed a new transportation ministerial regulation that gave ojol drivers legal leeway to transport passengers, despite a previous health ministerial regulation that prohibited them from carrying customers as part of efforts to contain COVID-19. They initially were only permitted to transport goods.
The drivers stand out not only because of their large numbers and because they are relatively better organized than other workers. The even larger number of organized factory workers have not received half the attention let alone subsidized fuel, even though many of these workers in strategic industries also must travel by motorcycles to work away from home. No free gifts from the trunk of the President’s car for these workers who have been laid off.
Ojol drivers stand out because they are part of the novelty — tech startups that have become politically wired giants. With their iconic jackets and helmets and massive PR by their employers — ride-hailing companies GoJek and Grab — these drivers have become inseparable for urban, middle-class life and have become heroes in the crisis.
But other workers are no less important than ojol drivers — and many are not receiving any income at all.
Latest data from the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association show that 1,642 hotels had temporarily closed as of April 15; while Tourism Ministry data reveal that around 200,000 workers in the tourist sector have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some 2.8 million people have lost their jobs so far this year, according to data from the Manpower Ministry and the Workers Social Security Agency (BPJS Ketenagakerjaan). More than half have been furloughed or placed on paid or unpaid leave. Many small and micro business owners have also lost their income.
To paraphrase Pope Francis in his March 27 homily during the worldwide moment of prayer ahead of Easter, we are all in the same boat. “All of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said.
In this time of crisis, the government must remember that none of us is more special than the other.
Fair distribution of social aid is crucial as a nation in rowing together and braving this storm. Equally important is to have a president who leads the nation and shows he cares about all of us indiscriminately.