Occupational Health News Roundup

At the Guardian, Krithika Varagur interviewed workers inside the Indonesian factory that manufactures clothing for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, finding poverty wages, anti-union intimidation and unreasonably high production targets. The story includes interviews with more than a dozen workers, who asked that details about their identities be changed to avoid being fired. Varagur writes:

Alia is nothing if not industrious. She has worked in factories on and off since leaving her provincial high school, through the birth of two children, leading up to her current job making clothes for brands including Ivanka Trump at the PT Buma Apparel Industry factory in Subang, West Java.

Throughout her marriage to her husband, Ahmad, one or both of them has always worked. And yet, says Alia, the couple can never think about clearing their debts. Instead, what she has to show for years of work at PT Buma is two rooms in a dusty boarding house, rented for $30 a month and decorated with dozens of photos of their children because the couple can’t dream of having enough money to have them at home. The children live, instead, with their grandmother, hours away by motorcycle, and see their parents just one weekend a month, when they can afford the gasoline.

Alia makes the legal minimum wage for her job in her province: 2.3 million rupiah, or about $173 a month – but that legal minimum is among the lowest in Indonesia as a whole, and as much as 40% lower than in Chinese factories, another labour source for the Ivanka Trump brand.

PT Buma, a Korean-owned garment company started in Indonesia in 1999, is one of the suppliers of G-III Apparel Group, the wholesale manufacturer for prominent fashion brands including Trump’s clothing.

Many Buma workers know who Ivanka Trump is. Alia noticed her labels popping up on the clothes about a year ago.

Read the full story at the Guardian.

In other news:

Denver Post: Ethan Millman reports that Colorado’s newly adopted Uninsured Employer Act will creates a fund for injured workers whose employers lack insurance. Under the law, the state will still be able to fine employers who don’t have proper workers’ comp insurance, however the fines will now go toward injured employees. A spokesman for the state’s department of labor said: “Essentially in the past, if a worker was to be injured, the worker was left in a very precarious position. If an employer didn’t have insurance, a number of problems would come up for the employee. Unpaid medical bills and other complications arose. With the signing of this bill, employees can get what is needed even if the employer doesn’t have it.”

BuzzFeed News: Cora Lewis reports that the Trump administration is withdrawing Obama-era labor guidance that defined parent companies as “joint employers” alongside their franchisees, making them liable for unfair working conditions at franchise locations. Also being withdrawn is guidance that said gig economy workers should be considered employees of the corporations they work for, as opposed to independent contractors. Lewis reports: “While there are few immediate consequences of the change, it will almost certainly affect the outcome of cases now before the National Labor Relations Board, which concern whether parent companies like McDonald's are responsible for labor conditions at franchise locations, and what rights and benefits companies like Uber owe their drivers.”

Huffington Post: Emily Peck reports that Walmart’s sick leave policy is especially difficult for women, who typically serve as the main caregivers for their families. Walmart workers accrue points every time they have to miss a scheduled shift — accrue a certain number of points and a worker can be fired. A company spokesman said points aren’t mandatory if an employee has a good reason for missing work, but a new report from the legal advocacy group A Better Balance found that the giant retailer “regularly punishes people for taking time off because of a disability or serious illness.” According to the Better Balance report, Walmart has a policy of not keeping or even looking at a worker’s doctor’s note. Peck reports: “Employees say the system effectively scares them from taking sick time and adds stress to already stressful situations. Women, who are often responsible for children at home, are in a particularly tight spot. You can’t always plan in advance for when your child gets an ear infection or needs to be picked up early from school.”

CNBC: Ester Bloom reports that no full-time minimum wage worker in the U.S. can afford a two-bedroom apartment in any state. Reporting on research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Bloom reported that workers in a number of states would have to make between $20 and $35 an hour to afford such housing. In fact, an American worker earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work more than 94 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental. At the same time, federal housing assistance funds have been declining. Bloom writes: “Some business owners argue that raising the minimum wage will lead to higher prices for consumers, and some economists argue that it could depress job growth or even end up eliminating positions as it leads to more automation. A comprehensive 2016 study from the National Employment Law Project, however, found that the economists' fears aren't justified.”

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years. Follow me on Twitter — @kkrisberg.

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