Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Work culture, values and demographics

Unemployment is said to be 80% in Timor, but this is because 80% of the population are subsistence farmers who generally do not earn a cash income but rely on exchanging their produce for other produce or goods. However, unemployment in Dili is very high and with 50% of the population under the age of 15, is only set to grow.

The workforce in Dili is young:

· 53% are between 18 to 29 years old; and
· 41% between 30 to 45 years old (total 94%).

Most have graduated from senior high school (56%) and an additional 34% have an undergraduate degree (total 90%).

More men (70%) than women (30%) are employed.

More workers are married (58%) than single (40%), and 2% divorced or widowed.

The income of the workforce is small, just enough for one person or a small family:

18% earn less than $50 a month;
29% earn $51 to $100 (this includes schoolteachers whose monthly salary is $60; and taxi drivers who earn $100);
33% earn between $101 to $200 (most of my colleagues are in this bracket);
13% between $201 and $300;
2% between $301 and $400;
3% between $401 and $500 (the family we rent our home from is in this bracket as well as both the Directors from our respective NGOs); and
3% between $501 and $1000.
Our volunteer allowance is more than $1000 a month, which puts us outside these categories.

Most people employed in Dili (71%) come from the districts, a sign of population migration from rural areas to urban centres.

More than half the workforce works in the fields of education, charitable, developmental and humanitarian work and computing.

Workers rank industriousness and diligence as the lowest among all work ethics.

Reasons for a lack of industriousness and diligence in the Timorese workforce are:

Political: during the Indonesian occupation, the government created a culture of dependence, which continues to influence the Timorese work mentality. For example, in many development projects, contributions in whatever form were never asked from the people. Organisations did not encourage people to develop their skills or competencies. Low-level jobs that did not require superior competency, or high responsibility, more often than not, were assigned to the Timorese. Furthermore, staff worked for only a few hours a day and in a very relaxed way, which lead to a mentality of minimal work but expectations of maximum, pay.

Cultural: family and interpersonal relationships mean a great deal to the Timorese. Therefore, they take time to communicate, share and to visit relatives and friends.

Timorese revere their dead. Clan members usually contribute cows, buffaloes, pigs and other gifts such as money to celebrations to honour their dead (eg “kore metan” as in previous post). Feasts are important family occasions and families spend a large amount of money on them even at the expense of not being able to send their children to school.

When a family member dies, workers generally take up to two weeks off work as this is how long the initial post death ceremonies last and with upwards of 8 children of their own; an average of 7 siblings (more if their father practiced polygamy); 56 nieces and nephews (again more if polygamy is an issue), parents (often more than one mother if polygamous father), grandparents (ditto), innumerable cousins, combined with high mortality, this can result in a lot of time off work!

Geographical: unlike other rice eating Asian countries, corn is the staple food in Timor. Planting corn is much simpler than rice. You just thrust a sharpened iron or wood in the ground, throw in the seeds, cover them with soil and after one week, sprouts and leaves appear. Unlike rice paddies, corn is weeded only once to give space for it to develop. Where the soil is fertile, corn is harvested in two months.

Ethnic: some ethnic groups like the Makasae and Fataluku in Baucau and Lospalos; and the Bunag in Maliana are more diligent and active [no specific reasons were given why this is so].

Observations made by locals and foreigners alike say that the standard of living of most East Timorese remains at subsistence level as they make little effort to save for the future, implying that industriousness is not a prominent characteristic of East Timorese culture. (Furthermore, the many rituals surrounding marriage, birth and death cost the Timorese much money due to very large families.) Therefore, industriousness, diligence and hard work are values still to be attained.


Source: Bishop Belo Centre for Peace and Development, East Timorese work values in the process of nation-rebuilding: a study in Dili, East Timor, 2004


Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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