Stories from the field Author: Ellen Septiane Comments
Indonesia: Jakarta

As climate change brings hotter conditions, construction workers bear the brunt of extreme heat

While most people get to go home after a long day at work, Andi shares a room with three of his colleagues at a furniture workshop in Jakarta.

“The mosquitoes are crazy. Sometimes I can’t sleep for days,” he says of the small wooden-board room he calls home – a place where temperatures can reach over 30 degrees Celsius at night.

Many workers travel to the Indonesian capital from throughout the country in search of jobs, often taking on low-paid employment as drivers or factory or construction workers.

Construction workers can earn a daily wage of about 100,000 to 150,000 Indonesian rupiah ($7-$10.50) for tough physical labour. But summer temperatures averaging 37 degrees Celsius can make working extremely difficult for them, as they can’t avoid being outside on hot days.

To make matters worse, few construction businesses provide workers with help that could make their work or time off easier.

During the day, many employees work on construction sites shaded with only a thin roof – or nothing at all – in scorching heat.

At night workers sharing rooms often need to try to sleep without a fan or air conditioning, while facing other torments as well.

“I have rove beetle bites,” said Giarto, one construction finishing worker, pointing to his neck covered in a rash.

For many workers, the only way to repel ferocious mosquitoes undeterred by mosquito repellent is to burn garbage to create smoke. While thick smoke does provide protection, its toxic substances and tiny particles can seriously damage workers’ lungs.

During the day, construction workers such as woodworkers or finishing workers often are exposed to dust and chemicals that can cause respiratory diseases.

In some cases, workers from bigger companies are covered by their employer’s medical insurance. But most workers lack any formal protection and must manage their own health issues, they say. As temporary settlers from rural areas, however, they have limited financial resources and can lack access from everything from clean water to mental health support.

While construction business owners regularly keep cool in air-conditioned office and cars, their workers often have to sit on the back of an open truck when travelling, fanning themselves with a piece of cardboard.

As climate change brings hotter conditions, business owners could improve working conditions for their employees by installing fans and better controlling mosquitoes, including by using mosquito nets.

While the workers’ job is literally building the city, the city often is not taking care of them. It is time for that to change.

Ellen Septiane is an architect passionate about sustainability, who hopes to establish a social business to tackle climate change issues. Her article is the winner of the 2017 Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network(ACCCRN) 'Beat the Heat' Storytelling Competition.

This article was originally posted on the Thomson Reuters Foundation News (, Wednesday 20th December 2017

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