Friday, October 30, 2015

Water Cannons and Tear Gas Used to Disperse Protests over Wages

Tens of thousands of workers from the major unions demonstrated outside the state palace in Jakarta yesterday demanding the new wage regulation be repealed.

The workers are staying strong in their demands that President Jokowi repeal the law that excludes unions in annual negotiations over the minimum wage. They have vowed to continue demonstrations and strikes until their demands are met. But yesterday the government deployed over 15,000 police to break up the peaceful demonstration in Jakarta.

The day began with contingents marching and bussing into the centre of the city. By early afternoon the workers had come together in front of the state palace.

Being a Friday and majority Muslim population, Friday prayers were held on the demonstration.

By nightfall the demonstrators were still strong and showed no sign of giving up.

Eventually the government agreed to meet with union leaders for discussions.

But the government refused to repeal the law and so union leaders returned to the demonstration at 6pm.

Following this police were given the orders to break up the demonstration. Water cannons and tear gas were used to brutally disperse the protesters.   Several videos show the police use of water cannons and tear gas. Here is the link to one:

One worker commented that a better use for the water cannons would be to stop the fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra rather than break up peaceful protests in Jakarta.

Police moved in violently, arresting people and destroying the main vehicle carrying the loudspeaker.

15 union leaders and 2 activists from legal aid were arrested by the police and were still being detained this morning.

Workers are furious by the actions of the police. Demonstrations and strikes are set to continue in the coming days. Some workers are calling for action to be stepped up with strike action in the industrial areas.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Strikes across Indonesia: Workers Say No to Unfair Wage Regulation

Reports of strikes and demonstrations were pouring in yesterday as Indonesian workers began to take action against the government’s new regulation on wages. Under the new regulation the minimum wage will be determined by a formula based on inflation and economic growth. Trade unions will no longer be consulted. With current wages less than $300 a month in many regions, this regulation will see workers remain poor, while investors continue to profit. 

The unions are planning national strike action tomorrow, 30 October, but strikes and demonstrations were already paralyzing industry yesterday.

Below are photos and stories of strikes and demonstrations from yesterday:

Tens of thousands of workers streamed out of factories in one of Purwakarta’s biggest industrial estates, Kawasan Kota Bukit Indah, in West Java, bringing production to a standstill. In addition to rejecting the new regulation, workers in Purwakarta are demanding that the current regional minimum wage of Rp. 2,600,000 a month (~ $260) be increased to above Rp. 3 million (~ $300).

In Karawang, a region also close to Jakarta, production was brought to a halt at the industrial estate KIIC.

In the capital city of Jakarta, workers joined with students in demonstrations outside the State Palace.

The protests continued into the night. These workers traveled from demonstrations at the State Palace to reclaim the Cawang toll road. 

Further out of Jakarta, in Bogor, workers also took strike action.

And in another part of West Java, Subang

Demonstrations against the regulation have also begun in Yogyakarta

And in the outer islands, including in Batam
And North Sumatra

Workers are preparing for further strike action to demand the wage regulation be repealed.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Separated by Sea, United in Struggle: Australian and Indonesian Workers Under Attack from Hutchison

In early August 2015, 97 workers at the Hutchison port terminals in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, were sacked by text message and email at midnight. The workers were not even allowed back into the workplace to clear their lockers.

Hutchison is owned by Li Ka-Ching, Asia’s richest man. While the company has suggested they are reducing operations in Australia due to lack of competitiveness, the leaked company document ‘Phoenix Rising’ indicates otherwise. The document reveals plans to introduce more automated equipment at the ports. Rather than negotiating with the union over the plans, they instead have attacked the union that represents these workers, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). Most of the workers sacked were union delegates, health and safety representatives, or known for speaking up. 

The workers established pickets outside the ports in Sydney and Brisbane immediately following the sackings. While workers that are still employed have resumed work following a court order, community assemblies continue at both ports in protest at Hutchison’s complete disregard for workers’ rights.

Indonesian workers at the Jakarta International Container Terminal (JICT) were outraged by the sackings of their Australian comrades and sent messages of support. In Jakarta they are also facing a fight against Hutchison.

In 1999 the JICT port was privatised when 51% of the shares were sold to Hutchison who was given a licence to operate for 20 years. In 2014 the Indonesian Port Company (Pelindo II), which owns the remaining shares, extended Hutchison’s licence for another 20 years. However, it was done without tender, without permission from the Minister of Transport (which is legally required) and at a suspiciously low cost.

In 1999, Hutchison paid USD 243 million for the 20 year concession, at a time when the port had a capacity of 1.4 million TEU. The port now has a capacity of 2.8 million TEU, yet Hutchison will have their concession extended for only USD 200 million!

The JICT workers’ union (SP JICT) have criticised this corrupt licence extension, and are calling for the port to be nationalised. They are also concerned that after Australia, Hutchison will turn their attention to Jakarta and use claims of ‘efficiency’ to justify mass sackings.

However, they are already under attack. On 28 July 2015, two JICT workers who had been vocal in their criticism of the dodgy deal were fired and another four were moved to other ports. This obvious attempt at union busting sparked a strike and the workers downed tools for more than eight hours. The strike was successful and the workers reinstated.

But the Indonesian Port Company is becoming increasingly repressive in an effort to push through the unlawful concession. They have deployed 350 security officers to intimidate and threaten workers and more than 100 workers active in the union have been handed warning letters.

The JICT workers are supported in their fight by the maritime, port transportation, and seafarer unions (FSPMI, FSBPTI, KPI).  They are also part of the Nationalisation Asset Movement (GANAS). On 6 October 2015, 22 unions and activist organisations under the banner of GANAS held a demonstration in Jakarta condemning the union busting efforts of JICT management and demanding the Director of the Indonesian Port Company cancel the concession extension. 

Sydney, Brisbane, Jakarta: the fight continues! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Strike Wins Better Wages and Conditions! Fight Continues against Proposed Wage Changes

Workers at the company Korea Fine Chemical in Tangerang, Indonesia have unionised, fought and won! The workers’ were being paid below minimum wage and were on casual contracts despite working at the plant for years.

Recently the workers formed a union, part of the union federation Progresip-SGBN. The company immediately tried to smash it. Four union leaders were fired. The workers responded strongly. They called a spontaneous strike and mass meeting. On 13 October 2015 they held further strike action and a demonstration outside the factory. 

Their struggle has resulted in victory. The 49 union members now have permanent status, the four dismissed workers were reinstated and the workers’ demands for better wages and conditions have been met.

Strengthened by their win, the Korea Fine Chemical workers today joined other unions in a demonstration outside the State Palace to reject the Indonesian government’s plan to change the legislation on wages. Under the proposed changes the minimum wage will be decided every five years and it will be decided by a formula based on inflation, workers’ productivity and GDP. This is a slap in the face to unions who under the current system are part of yearly wage negotiations.

In recent years unions have successfully mobilised to win significant wage rises for workers. But the monthly minimum wage is still below $300. It is unlikely a government shown to side with business will be motivated to significantly increase this figure under the proposed changes. Unions are set to continue demonstrations to reject the proposal.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Union Busting at Honda: State & Company in Partnership

In April 2015, more than 3000 workers employed at the Honda Prospect Motor plant in Karawang, Indonesia held a mass meeting to declare the establishment of their union, SERBUK HPM. However, five of the union’s leaders have now been suspended by Honda in a classic case of union busting. The workers are fighting both the government and company for union recognition.

Kerly, one of the suspended workers, explains that it was in early 2015 that he and other Honda workers first started thinking about forming a union. Unionised workers at nearby factories had told them about their own experiences of winning better conditions.

At Honda a union already existed, but it was run by the company. Membership was compulsory and the fee was deducted automatically from the workers’ pay each month. From these fees the company union was raking in around 50 million rupiah per month, but was doing nothing for the workers. 

When workers were fired, the union leaders told the workers to take the severance pay and not fight the dismissals. They also never encouraged the workers to fight for higher wages. The workers at Honda are paid considerably less than the 4,000,000 rupiah wages of workers at other large automobile plants. They also face the issue of contract work, in which the company keeps workers on short term contracts allowing them to fire workers easily.

By 12 April 2015, the Honda workers had collected membership forms from 2500 workers to form an independent workplace union, SERBUK HPM. The company responded by announcing that membership forms were prohibited from being distributed. The company also threatened that workers joining would be fired, or reported to the police.

Despite the threats, on the 14 April 2015 SERBUK HPM submitted their registration documents to the Department of Manpower, Karawang District. The government official acknowledged that all requirements for registration had been met but refused to give the union a registration number.

The following day the Department of Manpower issued a rejection letter. The reason given was that the employers listed were still members of the company union (despite having already issued letters of resignation).

Three days after the attempt at registration Kerly was summoned by one of the Honda managers. He was interrogated and threatened with dismissal. During the interrogation, the manager forced open Kerly’s desk drawer and confiscated the union registration forms, including the member list. Management then began to target workers on this list.

Five workers, the leadership of the new union, were all suspended. These were:
  • Kerly, who had worked at Honda for 16 years
  • Yohanes Masang, who had worked at Honda for 14 years
  • Lutfi Firmansyah, who had worked at Honda for 16 years
  •  Uut, who had worked at Honda for 12 years
  •  Rizky, who had worked at Honda for 15 years

The five suspended workers

They were suspended with the reason they had committed ‘major offences’, however no details of those offences were ever provided. Another five workers involved in the union were transferred to other departments.

Despite the intimidation and repression, Honda workers have continued to fight for union recognition. Several major rallies have been held, including in front of the Japanese Embassy and the Ministry of Manpower office in Jakarta.

SERBUK has since found out that their registration was rejected on orders from a ‘special team’ established by Cellica Nurrachadiana, the acting regent of Karawang district. Cellica’s ‘special team’ consists of the Chief of Police, the Head of Karawang parliament, the District Court Chief and the District Prosecutor. This worryingly suggests collusion between the State and company.

SERBUK has already requested eight times to meet with Cellica but she refuses to meet with them. In the up-coming Karawang elections, she is running for the position of Regent. Given her anti-union stance, Honda workers are calling on other workers to not vote for her.

SERBUK HPM welcomes any international solidarity with their struggle. These workers themselves understand the importance of internationalism and recently showed support to port workers in Australia involved in a struggle against Hutchison. Now the Honda workers need support for their own fight. If your union or organisation would like to show solidarity with the Honda workers, contact Masank:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Salim Kancil Murdered

Anti-mining activist, Salim Kancil, was murdered on the 26 September, 2015. Hands tied, he was dragged 2km from his home in Lumajang, East Java. He was beaten, tortured with electric shots, and his throat slit with a saw. His body was then dumped at the entrance to a cemetery.

Before murdering Salim, the thugs had attacked another local activist, Tosan. However, Tosan was saved by a friend and taken to hospital. Environmental group, WALHI, is now collecting donations to cover the cost of his medical bills.

The two locals had been active in a group protesting sand mining.  The mining had initially been proposed as part of a plan to develop tourism in the area. The tourism had never been realised, leaving only the mining. In September activists had organised a protest highlighting the environmental impact. They had received threats in the weeks leading up to it, but police failed to respond in time. Three days following the protest Salim was murdered.

In an example of peasant – worker solidarity, workers in urban areas quickly took up the case of Salim’s murder. Facebook display photos were changed en masse to a picture of Salim’s murdered body and the words ‘Life not as expensive as mining. Salim Kancil murdered’ (see image above). Several unions came together to hold solidarity actions, as did students.

The timing of the killing was the subject of some discussion. The murder of Salim occurred only days before the 50th anniversary of the 1965-1966 anti-communist mass killings in which over 500,000, if not over one million, Indonesians were killed as part of a communist purge that brought dictator, Suharto, to power. Several commentators likened the sadistic killing of Salim to the style of the 1965 murders. Current president, Jokowi, used the anniversary of the mass killings to reiterate that there would be no apology for the victims of ‘65 or their families.

Salim’s murder also occurred only two days after Indonesian National Peasant Day. This day is used by activists in Indonesia to highlight the ongoing dispossession, criminalisation and violence towards peasants. Salim’s case sadly demonstrated their point.

Agrarian conflict has flared up in several parts of Indonesia recently. Land grabs, illegal mining and related environmental problems are far from rare occurrences as the government implements plans to increase industrialisation in Indonesia. The government’s eagerness to attract and retain investment has come at a high cost for peasants and workers, as the case of Salim illustrates.