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! 

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