Thursday, May 4, 2017

May Day Jakarta 2017: Greater Repression Faced but Movement Responds

1 May, International Workers’ Day, is celebrated each year in Indonesia with major demonstrations of workers. This year was no exception, with hundreds of thousands of workers taking to the streets despite attempts by the state to dampen the mobilisations.


In the lead up to the day, the Manpower Minister issued a letter stating that demonstrations should not be held on May Day and instead workers should enjoy the public holiday doing other activities. One union leader responded, “How can we relax and see May Day as a leisurely holiday when our fate is one of suffering, we face threats of losing our jobs”.

In Jakarta the unions marched on the State Palace with a range of demands. These included an end to outsourcing and the apprenticeship program. In April, the government introduced an apprenticeship program, where more than 1,000 school kids will be put to work in the industrial areas of Bekasi. They will be paid only 60-80% of the minimum wage. In the lead up to May Day, workers in Bekasi united in opposition to the program, angry at the cheap source of labour being created for business.

Another May Day demand was for higher wages. The union movement continues to reject the government’s wage policy introduced in 2015 which ties wage increases to inflation and economic growth.

While every year the workers march to the State Palace, this year they were met by a fence and blockade of police. The government refused to allow them to enter the area to hold their demonstration. This is further evidence of the growing repression that the union movement in Indonesia is currently facing.

Fence and line of police block workers' demonstration

Workers who joined the demonstrations also faced repercussions when returning to work the next day. Thirteen union leaders from the fuel tank union were told they couldn’t enter the worksite because of their involvement in the May Day demonstration. However, the fuel tank drivers are a strong, militant union. In November 2016, they held an 18 day strike and had wins around pension compensation and health insurance. They are planning further action now in response to the management’s attack on their right to demonstrate.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Update on Strikes of Fuel Tank Drivers and Workers at PT CGS

The 1,000 fuel tank drivers, employed by Pertamina Patra Niaga (PPN), are now into their third week of strike action in Jakarta. The company is stubbornly refusing to meet their demands concerning working conditions and pay. The workers want their hours limited to 40 hours per week, particularly in order to decrease the risk of road accidents. They also want their overtime paid, and to be made permanent (some have been on short-term contracts for 12 years!). 

Photo from day 10 of fuel tank drivers' strike
The drivers have sought to make their strike successful by blocking entrances to the truck depot, but they have faced repression from police and military. The company has also tried to replace drivers with scab labour, and already this has resulted in road accidents.

The drivers have received solidarity and support both from other unions within Indonesia, but also overseas. Today the Maritime Union of Australia held a rally outside the Indonesian consulate in Sydney in support of the drivers and their union FBTPI. 

MUA demo outside Indonesian consulate in Sydney 16 November 2016
Manufacturing workers in Bekasi are also continuing their strike. Around 90 workers, employed by PT CGS, have been on strike since 26 October this year. They are paid only 70,000 Rp. per day (roughly $7 a day), which is well below the minimum wage. Angry at their low pay, the workers joined the union SGBN back in August. But since then, management at PT CGS has refused to meet with the workers, and instead hired thugs to intimidate and threaten the workers. The company then fired the 10 union leaders in a classic case of union busting.

Workers at PT CGS on strike
But the strike action has proved successful. The workers have already got an agreement from management that the union leaders that were fired will be reinstated and that the workers will be paid the minimum wage from 2017. The strike will continue though until all their demands are met.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fuel Tank Drivers Strike Over Safety and Security


More than 1,000 fuel tank drivers in Jakarta, employed by Pertamina Patra Niaga, are planning to take strike action next Tuesday, 1 November 2016. The drivers, members of the Indonesian Port and Transport Workers’ Federation (FBTPI), plan to bring the tanks to a halt to demand greater job security and workplace safety.
A photo of tank workers' previous strike in 2014
The drivers often work shifts of more than 12 hours a day. These long work hours lead to fatigue which causes road accidents. In the last year, four drivers have died as a result of these unsafe conditions.

Workers are also demanding that Patra Niaga pay them overtime in accordance with the law. Since 2007, the company has refused to pay overtime to workers, despite the drivers working more than 40 hours a week.

Another problem the workers face is lack of secure employment. Many of the workers are kept on short-term contracts. Some of them have had their contracts extended 10 times. This is illegal in Indonesia, where contract work is only allowed for short-term projects. The drivers are therefore demanding permanent employment.


Ahead of the strike, the company has threatened to bring in the military to replace striking workers. Meanwhile the mainstream media is claiming the striking workers will cause fuel shortages. But really, the blame for any shortages lies with Patra Niaga – the company has left the workers with no other option but to take this action.

KPBI Union Sticker: 1 November 2016, Support the Tank Driver Strike Against PT Pertamina Patra Niaga

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Union Activists Imprisoned for Demanding Workers' Rights

Today the Indonesian state has imprisoned two union activists, Abdul Hakam and Agus Budiono. These two activists, from the union KASBI in Gresik, East Java, have been sentenced to gaol for three months for “unpleasant acts” or, in other words, for struggling for workers’ rights.

Their “crime” stems from their involvement in organising outsourced workers at the company PT Petrokimia Gresik. This company has drastically increased its use of outsourced workers. From only employing 200 outsourced workers through 2 companies in 2006, by 2013 the company employed some 900 workers through 11 outsourcing companies. The workers fought back by unionising and demanding that they be paid at least the legal minimum wage.

The company attacked back. In March 2013 there were mass sackings. The workers that remained faced intimidation, bullying and bribery as the company attempted to crush the union. As part of this attack the company reported Abdul Hakam and Agus Budiono to the police. The “unpleasant acts” law is often labelled as rubber because of the way it is used against activists involved in union organising and demonstrations.

The imprisonment of these two activists comes at the same time 26 union activists in Jakarta also face criminalisation. They are facing charges for their involvement in a demonstration against the new wage regulation. Weekly demonstrations are happening in defense of these activists as their court case continues.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Police and Military Violence Used in Plans for Construction of Airport

More than 1000 police and military personnel were mobilised yesterday, 16 February 2016, in the latest move to force villagers in Kulon Progo off their land to make way for an airport. The police and military were used to allow the government to begin scoping of the land. The local community that have organised resistance to the land grab immediately gathered in response to the presence of the police and military in their villages. The community’s requests for negotiation were rejected and instead their gathering was met with heavy repression. As recounted in the community’s press statement:

“Violence like a rain of punches and kicks as well as other forms of intimidation by the police. Even to the point where children were trampled on when the police were breaking up the gathering of villagers. There was a local that was also strangled and fainted. Even several of the peasants’ possessions including a motorbike and a table of chilli seeds were damaged. This was all because the police used force and violence to gain entry.”


Plans for the construction of an airport in this coastal rural area began in 2011 when the government signed a contract with an Indian investor. Since then the local, regional and national government have been trying to find ways to force the villagers off their land. The community however has been there for generations and make a living by planting chillies, peanuts and melons. Culturally the land is also significant to them, and even from an environmental point of view the community are concerned construction of an airport would put the area at risk of a tsunami as natural sandbanks would be destroyed.

Their protests have been met with heavy repression and intimidation. Pak Agus, one of the community leaders, received a visit from police dressed in plain clothes one night a few weeks back. As he opened the door two guns were held up against him, left and right above his waist. They warned him to stop protesting, to just accept the airport construction and be quiet. But Pak Agus and the rest of the community will not be quiet as they know that they have rights to the land and that if they lose their land they will lose their livelihood, culture and community.  

This is not a unique story in Indonesia. Currently there are hundreds of such projects being implemented with the same harsh repression and disregard for the local communities. The victims are many, such as Salim Kancil who was murdered in September last year in East Java for protesting the development of sand mining. The community in Kulon Progo are worried that it will only be a matter of time before their struggle also results in a death.  In the repression yesterday alone 15 locals were injured.

Messages and statements of support can be sent to Pak Agus at email: agus.kanthus98@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Release Rita: Migrant Workers Not to Blame for Drug Smuggling

Rita Krisdianti: Threatened with the Death Penalty
 The Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union (SBMI) along with other unions and organisations are demanding the release of Rita Krisdianti. Rita is a migrant worker from East Java who was arrested in 2013 at Penang airport in Malaysia. The suitcase she was carrying contained 4kg of crystal meth, but Rita is not to blame. She is just the latest migrant worker to unknowingly find themselves at the bottom of a drug smuggling chain and now potentially facing the death penalty. Her case was to come before court last week but has been delayed.

Rita worked as a house maid in Hong Kong until early 2013 when her contract was stopped. The agency then moved her to Macau but after not receiving further work she planned to return home to Indonesia. Before departing though, a friend offered her a job working for a textile and clothing business. In July 2013 Rita was sent to New Delhi, India where she was given a suitcase which she was told contained clothing materials for the business. She was told to deliver it to a customer in Penang, Malaysia. Rita travelled to Penang to deliver the materials, only to be arrested and told that the suitcase actually contained 4kg of narcotics.

The case was to be brought to court 28 January 2016 but has since been delayed. Rita could be facing the death penalty. Rita is not the only victim of such harsh laws that ignore the situation of migrant workers. More than 200 Indonesian migrant workers are facing the death penalty overseas.

As SBMI explains, the majority of Indonesian migrant workers are females, from poor families, with low education, facing several social issues. Such conditions make them more susceptible to offers of work that can end up involving drugs.

Migrant workers often face terrible conditions and even violence from their employers overseas. The experiences of the two other female migrant workers from Rita’s village demonstrate the many problems they face. One of them has been a victim of sexual abuse by her employer in Singapore. The other developed a cyst while overseas but was assisted by SBMI and was able to receive medical treatment.  These are not uncommon stories among migrant workers who face huge debts, violence and exploitation. The dependency of sending and destination countries on migrant labour means governments are often not willing to take a strong stance on the rights of migrants.

Ramches from SBMI has said they are disappointed by the lack of quick response from the Jokowi-JK government in response to Rita’s court case. “Will Rita’s fate end up the same as other Indonesian migrant workers that have already been executed?”


Workers in Indonesia have begun to show their solidarity with Rita by changing their display pictures on Facebook. The hashtag #SaveRitaKrisdianti has also been widely taken up. Demonstrations have also taken place outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta demanding the release of Rita and safety for other Indonesian migrant workers facing the death penalty. 
Contract workers demonstrate in support of Rita
Demonstration in front of Malaysia Embassy, Jakarta 28 January

Friday, November 27, 2015

Four Day National Strike To Reject Unfair Wage Regulation

Banner: National Strike to Reject Government Regulation 78
Unions in Indonesia held a four day national strike last week, 24-27 November 2015. Not dampened by the state repression in October, workers are still standing strong in demanding the repeal of Government Regulation No. 78 / 2015 on Wages.

Under the new regulation the minimum wage will rise each year by a set amount determined by a formula of inflation and economic growth. Based on this formula wages in each region will not be increased by more than 11.5 percent in 2016.

Workers and their unions are outraged by this regulation as it does not take into account the cost of living. Further still, it attempts to weaken unions by no longer involving them in wage negotiations. Unions are calling for a rise in the minimum wage of at least 25 percent.

A worker referring to the minimum wage in the city of Bandung asked “how can a worker with a family meet their basic requirements with a wage that is only 2 million rupiah [~$200 a month]?”

The national strike saw workers across the country walk out of factories and industrial areas and march on government offices. Strikes and demonstrations took place in Tanggerang, Pulogadung, Cakung, Sunter, Tanjung Priok, Bekasi, Cikarang, Karawang, Bogor, Purwakarta, Jawa Tengah, Jawa Timur, Sumatra Utara, and Batam. 

Batam

Karawang

Subang
Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and Hong Kong also sent photos of their support for the protests.
'Indonesian Migrant Workers Support the Action to Repeal Regulation 78/2015. Increase Workers' Wages, Oppose Militarism and Criminalisation'
Regional governments are under pressure from the national government to use the new wage formula in determining district wages, but strong workers’ resistance could force them to defy the regulation.

In Bekasi, an area known for its militant worker movement, a member of the district parliament, Nurdin Muhidin, addressed the rally of striking workers. The Bekasi district government issued a letter to the Mayor of Bekasi last month expressing objection to the use of the new regulation, arguing that it was unlawful not to include unions in determining wage increases. But the Bekasi Mayor had disregarded the letter and set the new district minimum wage using the formula.

Nurdin joined the march of workers through the industrial area. However, the rally was broken up by police. Under another recent regulation demonstrations are prohibited in areas deemed national ‘vital objects’, such as industrial areas. This deeply restricts workers’ right to take action. The police arrested four workers and Nurdin. 

Nurdin and union leaders leading the march in Bekasi
Police move to break up the rally

Workers in other areas also faced repression. In Tangerang several workers were injured by thugs who attacked the rally. Thugs in Indonesia are often hired by employers who work with the state to repress workers’ demonstrations.

At a press conference on 26 November, unions stated 42 workers had been arrested in Indonesia during protests against the wage regulation. Police and thugs had also beaten up workers and forced them back to work when they tried to walk out of factories to join the strike. The unions called on President Jokowi to take responsibility for the repression.

Employers hung banners to threaten workers. This one states: If you strike, your wage is cut... What will your wife and children eat?

The national strike has shown workers will continue to fight the new wage regulation. However, if they are to win, the movement will need to be strengthened. In some areas production continued. Even at unionised factories some workers did not take strike action but only joined the demonstrations once their shift ended. The threats from employers and the state repression make it difficult for workers to take action. But unions must also be united when calling for strike action and work to make it a success. If the movement is united and strengthened it can win.