Monash University

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"It's a thin line" health, illness and well-being among Indonesian factory workers

posted on 2017-02-08, 06:04 authored by Nugrahani, Riana Dewi
This thesis presents the complexities of factory workers' problems in an export processing zone in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in managing their health, illness and well-being. A combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches was used to collect the data. Single and young men and women, of whom the majority worked in food and wood factories, were recruited to participate in this study. The search for good fortune, rural poverty, the desire to have material goods, and to escape from the social constraints of village life, drives people to move to the city. Despite a predominant desire to pursue economic gain, workers also relate urban living as providing them with a modern lifestyle, which they translate as having freedom and independence, providing them with a space to make their own decisions especially in relation to spending money. But this freedom seems to be illusive, as privileges are not stated in work agreements. Insecurity and having no choice in the workplace, poor working conditions, strained relationships with supervisor, long hours of work, and fear of losing jobs, obscure and dilute the freedom that workers hope to have in their personal lives. These factors also lead to deteriorations in workers' health conditions. Their health is exacerbated by stressful living conditions, such as a dirty and insanitary environment, crowded housing, and lack of water supply, and the complicated nature of social and personal relationships, such as family problems, low remuneration for their work, and pressure on them to remit to their families. Instead of being passive victims of the stressful working environment and social structure, most informants showed positive attitudes and strong individual agency as can be seen through their various coping strategies, which involved seeking treatment, professionally and traditionally, being grateful, self-blaming (and so a sense of personal responsibility), spiritual practices, and their involvement in labour unions. Drawing on this data, I argue that interventions are needed which are not limited only to health and treatment facilities, but expanded to improve the policies of employers, industrial relations, and the quality of government's policies, all of which influence workers' daily lives, both in workplace and living environment.


Principal supervisor

Lenore Manderson

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences

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