Thursday, May 16, 2013

*Wednesday, May 15, 2013*




*    *    * 

*--- Taking the Militant Way*

*--- Workers Commemorate May Day*

*--- May Day, Not Mayday*

*--- Marsinah's Unfulfilled Dream*

*--- Workers Need MoreThan a Holiday on May Day *

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  Said Iqbal: Taking the militant way

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, May 01 2013,

*(Courtesy of Said Iqbal)*

With his charismatic leadership, Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union (KSPI) undoubtedly convinced other labor unions to hold a national labor action.

The workers will still go on strike on Wednesday in observance of May Day, despite a recent meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace.

Iqbal has already checked with organizing committees in the regions. At least a million workers are set to rock millions more in Jakarta and other cities in North Sumatra, Riau Islands, West Java, Central Java and East Java.

"The national strike will be a reminder to tycoons and the regime. It is a necessity because justice will not come down from the sky but must be fought for," he told The Jakarta Post recently.

The strike, organized by several confederations grouped under the Indonesian Labor Union Council (MPBI), has won support from other unions and civil society groups in their efforts to reform the employment and remuneration policies.

Iqbal, also a member of the National Tripartite Forum and the National Wage Committee, gave a nod to the importance of militancy, not extremism, amid the deadlocked negotiations between employers and the government. "A strong labor union movement can be an agent of change to lift up the economic livelihood of workers."

"Labor unions have forcibly taken the militant way because other ways and roads to settle unresolved major labor issues have been closed down."

Labor relations deteriorated between 2011 and 2013, as hundreds of thousands of workers have staged national strikes each year. The ensuing chaos has led regional heads to increase local minimum wages

Union organizers have also launched a sweeping movement against 14 of 122 companies that have attempted to introduce outsourcing for part of their core businesses in Bekasi and Cikarang, West Java.

The movements, which have included paralyzing blockades of strategic state assets such ports and toll roads, have sparked strong protests from executives, since they took place under the nose of security guards.

Iqbal, who claimed he was still working as a manager at PT Panasonic Health (PHCI) in Cibitung, said that he was questioned three times by the National Intelligence Agency (BIN). He told agents that he was true lover of the state ideology, Pancasila, to counter charges that he was left-wing socialist or a Communist.

"We are fighting just for a little justice. Our struggle is to have employers provide better jobs and pay a decent wage to workers amid good economic growth of six percent. Workers will demand nothing if the country is in a deep economic downturn."

Iqbal said that unions were fighting for better remuneration and for the implementation of the national healthcare scheme by January 2014, and were demanding that the government drop plans to raise subsidized fuel prices for private cars on fears of follow-on increases for in the price of basic commodities and rental prices.

To avoid prolonged industrial conflict, local executives should learn from Japan, South Korea and US and bargain with unions as equals, Iqbal said.

"Executives should bear in mind that workers have great solidarity and will remain loyal if management sticks to transparency, accountability and equal partnership in industrial relations," he said.

The way Iqbal has led the Federation of Indonesian Metal Worker Unions (FSPMI) and the KSPI has made him a strong candidate for the prestigious Ebee Elizabet Award given by the government of the Netherlands. Previously the Netherlands Labor Union (FNV) brought the story of Iqbal's militancy to the big screen, hoping that a film about him would inspire Dutch union members.

Iqbal, born in Jakarta in 1968 and graduating as an engineer from the University of Indonesia, conveyed his thanks to Panasonic Group boss Rachmat Gobel, who has allowed him and three other organizers to take an active part in the union movement while working at the company.

"[Rahmat] sets a good example as to what business tycoons should do to create harmonious industrial ties and maintain worker loyalty and productivity," Iqbal said.

On mushrooming labor unions, Iqbal said that, based on lessons that his has learned from the establishment of the International Free Trade Union (ICFTU) in Europe and the merger of the AFL-CIO in the United States, he has an obsession to merge the nation's 98 major labor unions to offer a powerful united front in negotiations with employers and the government.

"Aside from the merger issue, the labor unions should find common ground and objectives for workers. They have to stay independent, but not neutral because they take workers' side. They must be free from political intervention from the outside and must forge strong political bargains to fight for their common interests," he said.

According to Iqbal, labor unions should not be elitist and should rely on financing from members to cover their operations. "The FSPMI and KSPI have actively supported industrial strikes because they collect Rp 4 billion [US$412,000] and Rp 200 million annually respectively from their members' monthly dues."

Iqbal, who unsuccessfully ran as a legislative candidate for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in 2009, confirmed that he no longer had an obsession to become a politician and would dedicate his life to his career at Panasonic, labor unions and his family.

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  Workers Commemorate May Day

The Jakarta Post | May 02 2013,

International Workers Day, or May Day as it is more popularly called, was commemorated differently across the archipelago on Wednesday, ranging from entertaining performances to street rallies demanding improved working conditions and wages.

In Pekanbaru, Riau province, local workers and those from surrounding regencies including Siak and Kampar gathered at Politeknik Caltex Rumbai Square to watch an art performance and to participate in various traditional games.

The same fanfare was also evident in Dumai city, where workers held social activities and strolled along PT Pelindo Dumai's Pier D. Local unions had agreed not to stage rallies but instead organize positive activities, such as donating to workers' families or orphanages.

"This is our way of showing joy for the raise in the province's sectoral minimum wage [UMS]," said the Riau coordinator of the Federation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (FSBSI), Patar Sitanggang, referring to an 8.6 percent wage hike.

Workers in other regions protested on the streets. In Batam, Riau Islands, sweeps by unions to force workers to take part in rallies prompted engineering and construction company PT McDermott to send home its 3,000 workers, some of whom joined protestors at Alun-Alun Engku Putri Square.

In Palembang, South Sumatra, workers demanded the government ban outsourcing that disadvantaged workers and urged the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) to withdraw its challenge against province's minimum wage (UMP) at the Palembang State Administrative Court (PTUN).

In Yogyakarta, workers distributed flowers to female manual workers. "We expect a wage increase to meet our daily needs," said Tinah, one of the workers, adding that she usually worked from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. and earned a daily average of Rp 30,000 (US$3.09).

In Samarinda, East Kalimantan, workers called for better work safety and demanded local administrations force companies to implement the health and work safety program.

In Palu, Central Sulawesi, non-governmental organizations and workers grouped under Central Sulawesi People's Struggle Front staged a rally to demand the government revoke the licenses of recalcitrant oil palm plantation companies and those without environmental impact analysis (Amdal) documents.

In Semarang, Central Java, workers marched on the city's main streets, rejecting fuel price increases and demanding decent wages and a ban on outsourcing.

Separately, journalists in the city urged media companies to pay more attention to the welfare of their journalists, especially those working as contributors and correspondents in the regions.

Protest coordinator Arif Nugroho said contributors and correspondents received low wages. The same call was made by dozens of journalists in Bandung, West Java.

Alliance of Independent Journalists' (AJI) Bandung chairman Zaky Yamani said many mass media outlets in the city violated the law.

"They pay their journalists less than the city minimum wage, lower than others working in other fields, despite the fact that their jobs is high risk while at the same time their companies do not give them health and accident insurance," Zaky said.

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  May Day, not Mayday

The Jakarta Post, Editorial , May 01 2013,

Today, the world, including workers in the nation's major cities and industrial centers, are commemorating May Day. Jakarta's residents are bracing themselves and hoping that the congestion will not be too bad; although memories of previous May Day rallies blocking toll-road entrances remain fresh.

*Union leaders have warned of "1 million" protesters on Jakarta's streets alone on Wednesday, if the government shows no sign of granting the unions' wishes --- such as ending the cheap labor policy and abusive outsourcing practices, and canceling any plan to raise fuel prices. *

Employers have said such demands are unrealistic, arguing that the government will continue the subsidies for low-income people once the price of gasoline is increased. But workers say only scrapping the fuel-price hike will enable them to avoid the usual skyrocketing commodity prices that accompany every price increase of vital goods.

*Despite the arduous process of seeking common ground between workers and employers, it is clear that the nation's estimated 120 million workers need a clear voice to represent their demands to employers. *Recently the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, requesting among other things that the government verifies the labor unions so they would have a clearer understanding of who they should be talking to. True, the post-Soeharto years have seen a mushrooming of unions to the point where it can be confusing even for the workers themselves; workers can --- at least in theory --- choose a union in a specific sector, such as the metal workers' or bus drivers' unions, or one affiliated to their personal political party or religion. Other union members, however, have been labelled preman or hoodlums.

Whoever leads the unions, employers have reiterated their concerns about the lack of legal certainty; indeed, a number of mayors and regents have backed down and changed local ordinances on the regional minimum wage increases, a measure that is feared will set a precedent for future wage decisions.

For their part, workers do not see any relevance in verifying unions with their demands, maintaining that the demands will remain the same even if the hoodlums are identified and separated from the legitimate workers. Strikes, they say, are a last resort, with talks having almost collapsed regarding a remuneration system that they regard as fairer compared to the current "cheap labor" policy, and other demands.

Beyond the detested traffic congestion, people rarely get a close look at the lives of the country's workers. What they mostly see is the vibrant "informal sector", whose workers and owners are engaged in a wide range of economic activities throughout the day and night. However, people do not witness the daily toil of workers behind factory doors --- whose complaints are only rarely expressed if they can participate in protest rallies.

The problem is that despite the rowdy and occasionally intimidating unions, workers have little bargaining power precisely because of the informal sector, which is estimated to make up two-thirds of the workforce and whose workers are labelled "underemployed" because of the low income they earn despite their long working hours.

Workers' unions have seen the result of their clout, with so many mayors and regents changing agreements reached with employers over the annual minimum wage. However, this affects only those few million workers in the formal sector, raising questions as to the effectiveness of the unions.

Their strategy must take into account the majority of Indonesian workers who do not expect any part of the labor policy to benefit them.

If the rallies do prove to be a headache for many of us, it would at least be worthwhile to know they were held for the sake of the majority of Indonesian workers. Otherwise, the unions will urgently need to revamp their strategy or risk becoming merely loud, but not all that relevant.

  Marsinah's Unfulfilled Dream

The Jakarta Post,Editorial, May 08 2013,

Over the weekend 34 young workers finally regained their freedom, after being forced to work for two years at a factory in Tangerang, Banten. Police are still investigating the treatment of the men as it is alleged they were forced to work without pay, were crammed into a single bedroom and were subjected to torture.

This appears to be one isolated case that the police will hopefully resolve. Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Rikwanto said investigators would probe allegations that military and police personnel were involved in the case. The perpetrators may be charged under the Criminal Code for the abuse.

A thorough investigation and trial to hold perpetrators accountable would be an achievement in this nation. Though it is just one case in one of the country's major industrial areas, resolving it would at least symbolize a gesture to end impunity, at least on the factory floor.

*Today Indonesia remembers another unresolved case, hidden deep in the closet --- the death of activist Marsinah on May 8, 1993. This case, in Sidoardjo, East Java, is now 20 years old and, thus, the case has expired. Two managers from her watch factory were convicted but alleged perpetrators from the Sidoarjo military command never reached court.*

*Marsinah was among the workers who led a protest against the management and the military command for abusing workers, following their demands for better pay and work conditions.
Activists today are demanding an official Marsinah Day while others earlier suggested moving International Workers Day, in Indonesia, to May 8 to honor her struggle.

The protest was held at the height of the New Order's power, where close collaboration between the management and the local military were the rule. As a woman Marsinah suffered even more --- an autopsy revealed she was sexually assaulted and her inner organs were severely damaged. Subsequent leaders promised to reopen the case but with the passing of today this is no longer possible.
Sweeping cases like Marsinah under the carpet maintains the legacy of impunity and continued abuse against vulnerable citizens because no one gets punished.
The Tangerang case also opens our eyes to the unmentioned practice of slavery-like treatment within the safe borders of our country. To improve the condition of servants, for many years activists have pushed for the domestic workers law, unfortunately, so far, it has been unsuccessful.

An anti-slavery law is needed for Indonesian employers, who think nothing of having lowly paid maids at their beck and call.

*Marsinah, at 24 years old, demanded the recognition of workers as humans. The least Indonesians owe to her is to ensure the end of slavery in the country.*

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  *Workers Need MoreThan a Holiday on May Day***

Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post, May 01 2013,

Labor activists have applauded the government's decision to make May 1 a national holiday starting next year but they called on the government to better uphold the rights of workers in the country.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to officially proclaim May Day a national holiday on Wednesday. Chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union (KSPI) Said Iqbal said the plan was just the first step in a long journey to improve the lives of workers in the country.

"After more than 10 years, the government will finally establish International Workers Day as a national holiday. It is of course symbolic because making it a national holiday would not directly improve the welfare of Indonesian workers. Nonetheless, it is important to show that the state actually recognizes the labor movement in this country," Iqbal told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He said that the holiday would not affect workers' productivity. "I believe that on the contrary it will encourage workers to work harder because they will feel that their existence is recognized," Iqbal said.

Separately, member of the House of Representatives Rieke Diah Pitaloka of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) urged the government to take immediate action to improve the lives of workers and not just stop at making May Day a national holiday.

"For one thing, the government should enforce the law against errant employers so that they will think twice before doing anything wrong to workers," Rieke said.

Rieke, who lost her bid for the West Java governorship recently, also urged Yudhoyono to prod his Democratic Party into supporting bills that would promote the rights of workers. "This will prove that the President doesn't only aim at polishing his or his party's image approaching the election. Prove that you actually care about workers," Rieke said.

Workers unions, including the KSPI, are set to stage rallies across Indonesia, protesting against, among other issues, cheap labor, union busting and the government's plan to increase fuel prices, which they claim will cause hardship for the country's workers.

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