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Improving breastfeeding facilities benefits workers, their babies and business

A worker-management committee has helped improve facilities for new mothers in one of Indonesia’s leading garment factories, while boosting productivity.

Feature | 01 August 2019
JAVA, Indonesia (ILO News) – Crouched in a small, concrete toilet stall at Ungaran Sari garment factory in Indonesia’s Central Java province, Ririh Septianingsih takes out her manual breast pump. The space is neither comfortable nor particularly hygienic but she makes do.

It’s 2014 and Septianingsih has just returned to her job as a cutting operator after the birth of her first child and is determined to provide her own milk for the baby, conscious that it is not only best for the little girl’s health, but also an economical choice for her family.

Despite her resolve, the lack of facilities at her workplace make breastfeeding hard, and she reluctantly resorts to formula milk much sooner than she would have liked.

“It just became too much of a challenge,” she says.

Flash forward, and 27-year-old Septianingsih has now been at the factory for nearly nine years and has given birth to her second child, a boy. The picture looks quite different.

During a paid break, she heads to the dedicated breastfeeding room whenever she needs to. The room is painted a cheery pink and is lined with comfortable chairs and colourful information pamphlets in the local language. Relaxing music plays from a CD player in the corner.

More than 95 per cent of the factory’s 14,500 workers are women, so the breastfeeding room is used regularly. While Septianingsih is there, seven or eight other women come in to express their milk and store it in the fridge.

I feel so supported, not only by family but also by management and everyone around me at work."

Ririh Septianingsih, garment worker
Close by, in the medical clinic, four dedicated nurses and two doctors work in shifts to answer questions and provide check-ups. In addition, workers are offered counselling during pregnancy and after birth, pre-natal yoga twice a month and regular advice on breastfeeding.

“I feel so supported, not only by family but also by management and everyone around me at work,” Septianingsih says. “I plan to breastfeed until my son is two.”

Change driven by dialogue

The factory is one of 1,600 factories worldwide that come under Better Work – a flagship programme run by the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Cooperation to improve working conditions and competitiveness in the garment industry.

It’s one of Better Work Indonesia’s first high-performing factories. That means it has demonstrated high levels of compliance with national and international labour standards, effective workplace management systems and a full commitment to staff learning, as well as advanced worker-management dialogue.

Timbul Juriyah, a Warehouse Supervisor and Head of the Peer Educator Breastfeeding Programme, explains. “It was one of my team who inspired me to advocate for a breastfeeding programme in the factory. She came to me complaining so I brought this issue to our monthly worker-management committee meeting and requested action.”

Better Work supports worker-management committees in factories through regular advisory visits, trainings and by sharing tools and tried-and-tested approaches.

When workers feel they matter, we notice they work more enthusiastically."

Nur Arifin, head of the factory’s human resources department
Its research and on-the-ground experience have clearly shown that free and fair elections of committee representatives, a climate of mutual respect and mechanisms for consultation benefit workers and businesses alike.

“When workers feel they matter, we notice they work more enthusiastically,” says Nur Arifin, who heads the factory’s human resources department. “They put their hearts into the job and give their full commitment to the company. With more loyal and dedicated workers, the company’s productivity automatically increases. If we look at the history of our company we can clearly see this: when we started in 1975 we only had 200 employees; right now, we have around 14,500.”

Better Work is a flagship programme of the UN’s International Labour Organization, jointly managed by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group. Better Work brings together government, employers, workers and international brands to improve working conditions and competitiveness in the global garment industry.