Four workers died while cleaning sewer, employer negligence suspected

Agung Supriadi was a calm curly-haired 21-year-old man, whom women of his neighborhood loved. On Dec. 22, he left for work in the morning to clean a sewer in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta.

He did not make it home alive.

Agung died with three of his friends, Ridwan, Alif and Andi — all in their twenties — reportedly from asphyxiation while removing garbage from the Kalibaru tunnel, after being pushed by a strong current and running out of oxygen. The workers had been hired by East Jakarta Public Works Agency.

“Agung was a strong swimmer,” Agung’s oldest sister, 29-year-old Aci Sutarsih, said. “But, maybe there was too much garbage,” she said.

In her modest home, a square room with big wooden windows in Cipinang Besar, East Jakarta, Aci said recently she was shocked on hearing the news of her brother’s death.

Aci, who lost her parents nine years ago, raised Agung and her sisters on her own. Having no money, Aci and her siblings did not continue their education past elementary school.

Agung used to do odd jobs such as cleaning service or helping people move, Aci said. He would also sometimes busk with Ridwan, Alif and Andi.

“They were close friends,” Aci said, adding that Agung and the others were “sehidup-semati” (friends in life and death).

Agung had worked for the Public Works Agency as a daily worker for around one year, Aci said. He would receive Rp 35,000 per day.

“Sometimes he helped out by giving me some money,” she said. But mostly he used his wages for his own needs, which included taking his girlfriend out.

“I heard from his friends that they talked about getting married,” she said.

Police suspected the deaths of the four men was a result of negligence. Jatinegara Police detectives found that none of the workers had been given safety clothing or equipment before entering the sewers.

One eyewitness said they only had a flashlight, and on the day of their deaths it had been raining, causing the water levels to rise up to their waists.

“We suspect they died as they ran out of oxygen and were trapped in the water,” Jatinegara Police chief detective First. Insp. Supardjiono told reporters a day after the incident.

The police have questioned several witnesses, but have not named any suspects.

Jakarta Public Works Agency chief Budi Widiantoro said safety equipment had been prepared for the task.

“The incident occurred because of a sudden increase in water levels,” he said.

Workers were recruited for public works projects according to necessity, Budi said.

“The recruitment of workers is based on occasional needs, and is usually on a short-term basis… we do not give them year-long contracts, so they are not paid any occupational insurance on top of their daily wage,” he said.

A lot of people work without social or health insurance. Firefighters for example, who work in very dangerous conditions, are among the many who work for the public good without insurance.

Aci said she had received a total of Rp 10 million from the city administration following the death of her brother.

“I want to use the rest of the money to beautify Agung’s grave,” she said, adding that she was not sure how much was left.

“I used it for the burial and it was like rain when you spend money on those times,” she said.

Jakarta Manpower and Transmigration Agency chief Deded Sukandar, whose office oversees the implementation of work safety in companies, said in the case of Agung and his friends the employers had done enough.

“They gave money to the families,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Jakarta | Thu, January 07 2010

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