Elder Labor is an essay about older men and women who work. In December 2013 I began documenting conditions faced by productive lower income Indonesians, in 2014 I went to Cambodia. Capable disciplined, strong, men and women work hard long hours. On the whole the older workers I photographed are determined to stay productive. This may be partly due to a cultural that values independence and ability to contribute to family well being. At the same time, it is also due to need. Men and women that cannot work are dependent on family members or the good will of neighbors. Only a small proportion of retirees live in shelters or institutions, usually for a fee few can afford. This is also due to the wide spread belief that it is disrespectful and shameful for a family to send parents to homes or assisted living situations, and it is much cheaper to hire a local woman to help in the home.. But one complication is the growing need for children to move away from their home communities, or to migrate out of country to follow employment opportunities.
From the end of 2013 through August 2015 I visited markets, fields, homes, streets, rivers, fields and factories. I learned about pouring hot metals in bare feet, lava sand and rock harvesting, disappearing master craftsmen, about gold mining, herding ducks and endless burdens. I was told that days were long, weeks were full, unpaid hours and unsold goods meant critical losses in income. In rural communities finding work is difficult for all. Older workers will take any job available to support them selves, or their entire family.
I also sought out people, who cannot work, in homes, on streets, in assisted living shelters and geriatric wards so I would see the alternative.
Retirement benefits are available for civil servants and from major private companies. Medium and small businesses do not have retirement plans. Roughly 55%-65% of all jobs are considered to be informal as opposed to the smaller number of available jobs in the formal economy. 80% of the informal sector is found in rural Indonesia. While there is a form of government welfare for the impoverished, in practice distribution is problematic. Implementation of the new health insurance benefits for the poor also remains uneven. Elders entitled to aid often do not receive it.
In Indonesia harsh, dangerous, or toxic labor conditions are the norm and safety standards often lax or non-existent in medium and small businesses. Usually village chiefs, or collective organizations supervise the traditional/illegal businesses I visited and determined standards based on practices passed down through generations. I photographed in illegal sites that were dependent on arrangement with local officials, and police and experienced the consequence of that control. I photographed workers reported to be under the control of area gangsters and experienced the consequence of that control.
Indonesia's men and women have a shorter life expectancy then average especially among the lower income population. Among Indonesia's working population I found anappreciation of the abilities of older men and women. then is apparent in other country's work forces. This is especially true in Indonesia's informal economy whose jobs employ large numbers of older workers. If you can do it you are as valued as younger colleagues and respected.In Cambodia the elders, mostly women feel their government has forgotten them.