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Papuans Face Job Inequality
Keerom, Papua. Indigenous people in Papua are struggling for employment as most jobs in the gold-rich region go to migrants, despite government efforts to tackle growing income inequality.
Service industry jobs in the provincial capital, Jayapura, are taken mostly by non-indigenous Papuans, who make up half the province’s 2.8 million people.
“I have to work myself half dead to have enough money for food,” said Roni Sareo, 29, a native Papuan from Keerom district, about 60 kilometers north of Jayapura.
“I wish there were other jobs.”
Roni graduated from secondary school 12 years ago, but at most can only earn $75 per month from odd construction jobs, less than half of the $166 monthly minimum wage in the province.
Disadvantaged from the start
The reasons vary for why the unemployment rate of the indigenous half of the population is many times higher than among non-indigenous people, say analysts.
In a May 2013 report by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), only 17 percent of Papua’s labor force reported receiving an income from full-time work; another 45 percent were self-employed or working part-time; and 38 percent were in unpaid household help.
Figures for native Papuans are not broken down, but experts say this group usually cannot compete with migrants — who tend to be better-skilled — and most likely form the bulk of the unemployed and underemployed in the province.
There has been an influx of migrants from other parts of the country since Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, resulting in more competition for education and jobs, experts say.
Franciscus Xaverius Motte, a spokesman for the newly elected governor, Lukas Enembe, said poor education was partly to blame for the poor access of indigenous Papuans to employment opportunities.
The government has built schools in even the poorest and most remote areas of the province, but high teacher absenteeism, as discussed in a 2012 UNICEF report, continues to be a problem in spite of government incentives such as “remote area” allowances and housing.
Even when young people manage to finish secondary education, there are few job prospects. Papuan youths say business owners, who are mostly non-indigenous people from elsewhere in the archipelago, stereotype them as being lazy and incompetent, with a penchant for drinking.
Local Protestant priest Lipiyus Biniluk dismissed the stereotype as a rumor among “unscrupulous” business owners looking to profit from cheap migrant labor.
“Businesses won’t hire indigenous Papuans because they think they will lose money,” Biniluk said.
Running their own businesses seems a likely solution for native Papuans, but this avenue also has its obstacles, said Sinthia Harkrisnowo, a project coordinator with International Labor Organization, which launched an initiative with the UN Development Program in 2012 to encourage entrepreneurship among native Papuans.
“The challenge is there’s little forward thinking. Many farmers are subsistence producers and they live from hand to mouth,” she said. “They have no access to the market because even if they want to sell their produce in the city, they can’t afford the transport costs.”
Officials and experts have often cited the gap between rich and poor as a contributor to the long-running separatist conflict in the Papua region, which consists of Papua and West Papua provinces and is known as Tanah Papua.
Earlier this year, analysis by Australian National University noted that “in provinces like Papua and West Papua, which are relatively rich compared to the Indonesian average, the picture [of growing inequality] is arguably worse: both exhibit poor Gini ratios [a measure of income disparity] and very high poverty — a combination that implies a very skewed income distribution.”
To pacify separatist demands, in 2001 the government introduced a special autonomy scheme for Tanah Papua. The plan has yet to improve the welfare of Papuans, or the quality of education and health care, said Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Jayapura.
In 2012, the government launched an affirmative action initiative by allowing only native Papuans to bid on government construction projects, but implementation is difficult because of the low capacity of indigenous contractors, said Motte, the government spokesman.
“We need to change the model of development. In the past, development focused too much on the physical aspect [infrastructure], but now we want to develop the human side,” he acknowledged, noting the provincial government’s plans to increase the amount provided in scholarships to indigenous students.
Papua has the largest budget among the country’s 34 provinces, at nearly $600 million in 2012.
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