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Jakarta Pays Scavengers A Good Wage To Clean City, White Collar Workers Cry “No Fair!”


The municipal government of Jakarta recently announced that it’s going mobilize a team of 2,000 scavengers to clean the city’s streets as an answer to a growing garbage problem. What is interesting is that they said they are going to pay each of these new sanitation employees 2 million rupiah per month, which is around US$200 and close to the salary of a lower rung white collar worker.

From Kompas, translated by Indoboom:

Basuki explained that this effort would bring mutual benefit both for the scavengers and for reducing the amount of garbage in Jakarta. In addition, the scavengers can sort out the trash that still have value for sale and dump the rest of the trash accordingly.

‘Yes, we will provide them with a fixed salary. If we spend Rp 2 million for 2,000 people then it’s only going to cost Rp 48 billion. It is better than having a Rp 75 billion budget yet all the garbage problems still exist” he said.

As Jakarta tries to kill two birds with one stone — provide scavengers with work and good pay while at the same time getting a cleaner city — many educated, white collar Indonesians have raised some pretty big objections:

What was the point of getting an education if a garbage collector makes as much money as us?

This initiative has apparently challenged the city’s class system.

Some netizens commented:

An ordinary office worker’s salary is about Rp 2.2 million [US$ 220]… In comparison, the scavengers’ salary will be Rp 2 million [US$200]… Therefore, there will be more job alternatives for those bachelor degree graduates. lol.

Yay, it’s so cool that bachelor degree graduates can now work as office workers while high school graduates or below can work as garbage scavengers! Fantastic! We all are getting downgraded..! The value of our diploma is becoming more worthless as people start thinking they can get a Rp 2.2 million salary without even going to school.

A scavenger would surely be richer than high school graduates after this.

Bachelor degree graduates can only work as mini-mart employees…
While those below [high school graduates] would work as scavenger with a similar salary…

There are currently tens of thousands of scavengers making a living in Jakarta by scouring the city’s landfills and garbage depots for scrap and recyclables. They are the ones who separate garbage from that which can be recycled, and fill a societal niche by doing the work nobody else will touch. But this does not mean that their work is necessarily appreciated, and scavengers sit on the bottom level of the city’s class system. It is even common for many businesses to display signs that say “Pemulung Dilarang Masuk” (No Scavengers) on their doors.

Surprising perhaps, though dirty and treated as pariahs, many of Jakarta’s scavengers are not completely destitute. A report by the Guardians pegs them as making an average of 30,000 rupiah per day, which roughly adds up to around $90 per month. Scavenging is a full-fledged livelihood in Jakarta, and is one that the local government seems to be trying to step in and organize.

But there are many who seem to take this move as being an affront to their sense of class, which is often measured by salary anywhere in the world. If the people picking up garbage were paid the same as the people doing office work, what would be the status of the latter?

Status is little more than a social construct, but all cultures are ordered by it. Perhaps unfortunately, status is all too often based on income rather the role that a particular person plays for society.


Some Indonesian netizens did respond with the proper “thank goodness for them” appreciation that us computer tied white collar workers should show the garbage collectors of the world:

Have you considered that this work includes cleaning the gutters which are full of wet garbage which are disgusting and not easily picked up? I personally think it’s a very tough job so 2 million is a very reasonable salary if not maybe more. I don’t think I could do work like that as I would rather be sitting behind a desk.

And another:

A salary is usually directly proportional with production output. If public service employees can take the morning off or spend half the day reading newspapers plus chit-chat then why should they be paid higher? If the scavengers are given targets to clean certain road perimeters and they can achieve the target, why not give them a salary of Rp. 2 million? Your diploma can only help so much as many people can still be successful despite the lack of a proper education. Ultimately, I believe that salary should be directly proportional to work output, otherwise it’ll be similar to our parliament members.

The appeal of getting an education should be so you don’t have to get down in a gutter and pick up your society’s trash. But it’s also my opinion that the incentive of getting a formal education should be the prospect of doing a profession that you enjoy rather than the prospect of making money or gaining status.

Does it take an education to pick up garbage? No. But why is education held on such a high pedestal when all complex societies need armies of “uneducated” laborers willing to stoop down and take care of the trash? Something that I’m sure most white collar workers of the world would have a lot of difficulty doing.

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Filed under: Indonesia, Social Issues

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3170 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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