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.