On this year’s World AIDS Day, I would like to share with everybody an op-ed I wrote for (and ironically about) The Jakarta Post in 2008. Eyeroll. I swear this was more ironic than the fact that hipsters are unhip mindless sheeple who all look alike despite the lack of an official dress code. Here, have a read:
It was written based on a distasteful experience applying for a job at The Jakarta Post (which ended in them calling me thrice to bargain with me to get me to accept the job, and I rejected the offer and they finally left me alone because I was so put-off by their unethical practices). But the whole time I wrote it, I actually had HIV+ people in mind and what kind of stuff they must go through.
I’m glad I refused the job offers from The Jakarta Post because in July 2008, I did get my first proper job after graduating from grad school and ultimately ended up with better things—like working with more supportive and generous employers who know their human rights. Including a UNDP internship where I had the opportunity to learn about issues in Papua (one of them being the rate of HIV/AIDS in that province).
Warning: Epic Rant-to-Vent Ahead!
For some context, this was written in the first month of 2008 (not long after I returned to Indonesia, because back then a student visa wouldn’t allow fresh grads to stay a year to work in Holland). And the backstory to that is: I was at a closed job fair (which was facilitated by the British Council, but oddly Dutch alumni were invited as well). And so I show up, dropped my CV at The Jakarta Post’s booth, and I get a callback. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect, but it consisted of:
- A psych evaluation (because being a “writer” at The Jakarta Post totally entails handling firearms and weaponry, you guys). This took place at the offices of a company that runs these tests for a business.
- A medical evaluation at St. Carolus, if I’m not mistaken: You know, the standard physical and the round lab tests (blood, urine, all that good stuff). Which was uninvasive (compared to some of the exams/procedures I’ve had in my life) but in hindsight—when you really break things down and think about it, in was intrusive in a non-physical way because you essentially give this employer access to very personal/intimate information obtained from your bodily fluids (like, this is the one time me and my immature humour thinks of “bodily fluids” and cannot giggle).
- A paraphrasing/typing test on an old, battered computer at The Jakarta Post’s offices (I’m guessing to test how well you can type on an outdated computer). Substance-wise, it was kind of like the UN YPP’s précis writing section, but easier (the press release we had to paraphrase was just about commercial products as opposed to testing an examinee’s familiarity with terms like “child soldiers” or “climate change”). To be honest, it felt like a tweeting exam (like a test to fit as much as you need to communicate in 140 characters or less, I had been on Twitter since June 2007 so I knew the drill).
- And then finally the job interview with a panel of three real human beings (finally some real loving… SMDH).
Yes, really. In that order. So it wasn’t like they wanted to get to know you as a human being (mind and skills and the mushy emotional stuff) first, they wanted to know about your ‘vessel’ and how you fare as a piece of meat, so to speak. Very logical, veeerrryyy logical… Not.
Because it’s always a good sign when employers exhibit behaviour that makes little-to-no-sense. Employers need to understand that these hiring processes are two-way streets: It’s not just the employer gauging the potential employee, it goes both ways (how many times have I screwed-up auditions at casting offices on purpose as an actress if I thought I was told to do something racist, or deliver lookist lines, or be in a scene that promoted sexism? Plenty).
In the waiting area prior to the the third and fourth stages of the process, I kept overhearing other interviewees gush of Kompas-Gramedia Group’s reputation for being “great with benefits” (particularly their generosity with full-coverage health insurance). Well, if what I suspect (these Indonesian-owned media companies only hire full-time candidates in excellent health) then that reputation is undeserved. They’re only “model employers” to healthy people. But, as I gained more job-interviewing experience, I realised that most companies do not include medical assessments in their hiring process (in fact, IIRC, The Jakarta Post is the only one to do so).
The Jakarta Post fancies itself a ‘progressive’ publication/company. But I think not, far from it.
I can’t remember if this was even the original title… IIRC, the title I wrote had a blatant, glaring focus on health examinations. This title doesn’t feel like my style, I think they edited it (but I could be wrong). I remember reading the edited title and feeling like it was evasive.
None of the Big Law firms in Jakarta asked me of it, either (the worst thing they did was ask me after reading my CV was, “so you’re accustomed to defending ship crew at your previous job. Here, at this firm, we defend the interest of the companies that employ them. Can you handle that?” To which I squirmed, and they never called me back again because they knew I was so wrong for the job. LOL). They probably didn’t because they understand that it’s discriminatory and unjust.
This should not be the norm. Stop normalising it.
It’s one thing to evaluate a person’s ability to perform a job where justified, but a behind-the-desk writer’s job? Really? IDK, I just think running psych evaluations and physicals for someone who paraphrases press releases is overkill (because paraphrasing is sooo physically taxing—honestly, I think I burned more little gray cells drafting this blog post because it just occured to me to share it yesterday and I wanted to make it public just in time for #WorldAIDSDay). Shrug.
I mean, it’s only The Jakarta Post: It’s not the military, not the Fire Department, not the police force. You’re not testing for color-blindness for a cinematographer or designer. It’s not regulated sex work. It’s not like I’m high on dope while translating instructions for medical equipment, either… It was unnecessary.
The Indonesian government should actually ban, like make it illegal for employers to ask for a physical/evaluation unless:
- The nature of the work (based on the official job description) justifies it;
- It’s done for the benefit/in the interest of the employee;
- Done on the basis of public interest.
Not so you can be cheap with health insurance, or so you refuse to deal with a perceived ‘liability’ by employing them in a low-risk position.
This practice has become so normalised and accepted as a fact of life to many Indonesians, the first top search results when I Googled the legality of these exams included articles with the following quotes:
“Kalau memang dinyatakan gagal karena mengidap penyakit tertentu, jangan frustasi. Anggap saja, ini peringatan untuk lebih memperhatikan kondisi kesehatan Anda!” —Jangan Abaikan Test Kesehatan (Gajimu.com, apparently WageIndicator.org‘s Indonesian site)
That’s nice… But what if they have an incurable chronic disease that comes with a stigma (that comes with discrimination) like HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis B?
And then there’s the tone in this article entitled “Milik Siapa Hasil Tes Kesehatan Pelamar Kerja & Pegawai?” (the blog admins don’t allow quoting content, so you’ll just have to follow the link and read the article on the original blog).
Now I have to wonder if this employer (media company) has known about a health condition I myself had no idea about, and just… Sat on it? For all these years? The possibilities just blows my mind. What do I have? What do they know? Is it a confirmation of my iffy-behaving heart?
I mean, we’re talking about medical diagnoses here, FFS. This should be privileged information. Why are Indonesians giving employers (a media group, no less—if they decide this blog post is damaging to them, they have the power to turn their own ‘journalistic’ publications into PR tools and practically destroy me) access to your bodily fluids? Because we’re so desperate for employment? WTF is this?! This is not okay. This is not normal, so stop normalising these bad practices.
Personally, I have relatively harmless autoimmune disease—mostly an inconvenience (unless you’re a pro-tennis player like Vegan Williams) but what if you’re an applicant who turns out to be HIV+? It begs so many questions, if an employer knows but the applicant doesn’t, then doesn’t the applicant have the right to know? Who should deliver the news? Is it even their place to be the one to deliver the news? Is it even appropriate and ethical for a potential employer to be privy to such information.
The onset for that was October 2013 (I woke up with a hurting hand I couldn’t move one morning thinking my clumsy self just fractured yet another pinky toe/finger) so I don’t think that’s what they found, because I had none of those symptoms back then… I think I do have a slight heart-defect, but I don’t think that should stop anyone from writing from behind a desk. What should be stopped is people treating people with heart-defects like a liability when they could have made a contribution.
I still have no idea what The Jakarta Post found on the results of my physical back then, but when I wrote this op-ed, I actually have HIV+ people in mind. So, there. Food for thought for today.
The Three Phone Calls
So, when they called to say that they only wanted me to work for them as an unpaid intern, I was appalled and offended and I told them to [bleep] off. Then they called me a second time to bargain and said they wanted me for probation period (which would’ve been fine if this was offered to me at their first call, but it wasn’t) or a paid intern (I forget) and I told them they could [bleep] themselves. The third time around, they bargained some more and offered me what they originally advertised… (As if employers offering you a job they advertised and you applied for is something extraordinarily special.) And then I finally gave them a piece of my mind and hung-up on them… And they finally left me alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being the stereotypical Gen Y-er with an overinflated ego, who thinks far too highly of herself, and fails to understand that people need to prove themselves to get their foot in the door. You need to understand that I put up with three visits of this joke of recruitment process because I was desperate for this job.
If you know me, you’d know that I had no issue doing working an unpaid internship at UNDP (in fact, I took actual side-jobs just to fund that internship). And it wasn’t just because UNDP’s like a gajillion times more prestigious than The Jakarta Post: It was mainly because my boss at the time (who by the way offered me the internship at a Dutch alumni event at the Erasmus Huis) was frank and forthright about what the internship entailed and that the underfunded UN would be unable to pay me. He said non-verbatim, “we could use someone who speaks English at the project but we can’t pay you” (total transparency from the get go). And I respect that. They didn’t sit at a job fair booth held by the British Council—where people feel safe and trusting that no sleazy exploitative labour practices could occur, advertising the “writer” position like a real remunerated job, strung me along and put me through three levels of exams, only to tell me, they’ll only take me in as an unpaid intern.
How do go from singling out “potentially expensive” employees (from an insurance perspective) to actually trying to get my skills, time, and energy for zero remuneration. Mind-blown. How is that okay?
I don’t know what world they live in… Because in my world, you don’t treat people with skills you need like that.
This year, I learned what it’s like to be outed for having a medical condition that can cost you jobs. And it was terrible. But while I recognise that the situation has gotten better for HIV+ people (ARV’s have become more affordable, people can be HIV+ without immediately developing AIDS and live long lives, a vaccine trial has just been launched in South Africa right now) and HIV is no longer dealt sentence, HIV+ people are still way worse off than a spoonie could ever be. Us spoonies may have deal with ignorant people and being invisible, but autoimmune diseases don’t come with the stigma that HIV/AIDS still does nor do we face the discrimination people living with HIV still do.
Dear People Living With HIV…
Nobody with the exception of your sex partners are entitled to know your HIV status. Don’t give potential employers your blood. You have basic human rights regardless of your health status, and randoms have no right to your health information. Especially not employers.