26 February 2012

Recent Labor Struggle

Jakarta Post coverage

Four labor confederations

Hasyim Widhiarto, The Jakarta Post | Tue, 02/07/2012 10:26 AM A | A | A |
The Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (KSBSI)

Founded by the icon of the labor movement, Muchtar Pakpahan, many people still associate the organization with Pakpahan even though he has not been involved in the organization’s day-to-day management for the past few years due to his advancing years and declining health.

Established in 1992, the SBSI (before the confederation was formed) became an alternative organization for labor activists who felt dissatisfied with the performance of the government-sanctioned All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI), which had been strongly co-opted by retired generals and government officials.

In the 1999 general elections, after the fall of Soeharto’s New Order regime, Pakpahan finally entered politics by establishing the National Labor Party, hoping to receive support from members of the labor organizations. After failing to clinch a significant number of votes, Pakpahan tried his luck again in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, but still the party scored similarly disappointing results.

Currently led by Mudhofir, one of Pakpahan’s apprentices, the KSBSI now coordinates 11 workers’ federations that contain a total of 511,000 members. Learning from past experience, Mudhofir said the organization would carefully consider before trying to enter politics again.

“Looking at the recent situation, promoting labor rights through political channels is somewhat inevitable. But we currently don’t know whether we are ready or not [to enter politics],” he said.

The Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)

The KSPI oversees eight workers’ federations with a total of 793,000 members. The organization appointed last week labor activist Said Iqbal as its new president, replacing Thamrin Mosii, during its national congress in Bogor, West Java. Known as a labor activist with a vast network both here and overseas, Iqbal is also the president of the Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers’ Unions (FSPMI), the confederation’s most militant and influential federation member, which currently has 130,000 members, mostly in Bekasi, West Java. Last month, the FSPMI, together with other smaller labor unions in the area, initiated a massive labor rally in Bekasi, requesting employers to withdraw its lawsuit against the West Java administration’s decision regarding 2012 regional minimum wages.

The Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions (KASBI)

The KASBI received its status as an official workers confederation in 2005. More than 30 workers’ federations currently affiliate themselves with KASBI, pooling a total of more than 130,000 members within its purview. As a seven-year-old organization, KASBI has the smallest number of members compared to the three other workers’ confederations. Despite its relatively small size, KASBI is already renowned for its militancy and ability to attract supporters to every labor rally. Members of the organization are also easily recognizable since they always wear red when staging a protest. The organization is led by female unionist Nining Elitos.

All-Indonesian Workers’ Union Confederation (KSPSI)

KSPSI is currently the oldest and largest workers’ confederation in Indonesia. It oversees 16 workers’ federations with a total of around 2 million members. In 2007, the organization split into two under the same name, one led by former manpower and transmigration minister Jacob Nuwa Wea, and the other by labor unionist Syukur Sarto. Some internal sources say their personal dispute has affected their supporters, down to the lowest levels of the organization. “It is almost impossible for supporters of the two branches of the organization to cooperate with each other because they each think their organization is the legitimate and official one,” said Imam Sukarsa, the chairman of the KSPSI’s Tangerang regency branch.


Ball and chain in new wave of labor movement

The Jakarta Post | Tue, 02/07/2012 10:11 AM A | A | A |

January’s labor unrest that culminated in the paralyzing of economic activities in the industrial estates of Bekasi, West Java, took many by surprise as it marked the awakening of the labor movement after years of slumber. The Jakarta Post’s Hasyim Widhiarto investigates the issue. Here are the stories:

Labor activist Obon Tabroni, 40, not only knows how to rally crowds with his fiery speeches and provocative words but also how to wreck havoc.

During the rally on Jan. 27 in which tens of thousands of workers in Bekasi regency — home to a large number of production facilities owned by multinational companies — vented their anger over wage issues by occupying the Jakarta–Cikarang toll road and forced many factories to shut down.

Workers, aided by local thugs, pressured other workers in several Bekasi industrial estates to join the protests by threatening them with violence.

Racist remarks were also bandied by the protesters, igniting concerns that the row might spiral into a racial issue.

The property of several Korean companies was also damaged during the rally, according to the Korean Embassy.

Obon’s struggle showed how people power could overpower the rule of law — a move that is set to be copied by fellow labor unions in Tangerang, Banten, which recently planned to deploy masses to block access to the airport on Thursday to demand higher wages.

Despite a court ruling that annulled a West Java decree stipulating the wage rise in Bekasi, the central government and a lobby group, the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo), decided to bow to the workers’ demand for a more than 15 percent raise — more than four times last year’s inflation rate of 3.79 percent.

The decision to give in to the pressure was merely based on concerns that the rally may turn into widespread riots.

Aside from a blatant show of force, the rally also marked the revival of the labor movement, which gained notoriety between 2000 and 2007 when workers often flocked to the capital to rally.

Some leading labor activists believe the revival did not emerge suddenly.

Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (KSBSI) president Mudhofir, 47, said there was a rise of a stronger and more localized labor movement resulting from the shift in core labor issues in the past few decades.

“Unlike in the past, the agenda of most labor unions nowadays has moved ahead to ensure workers in the regions receive a proper wage. This has made their operation more localized but with a stronger support base,” said Mudhofir, who took over the organization’s chairmanship from labor activist icon Rekson Silaban last year.

Established in 1992 by veteran labor activist Muchtar Pakpahan as an alternative to the government-sanctioned All-Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI), KSBSI currently coordinates 11 workers’ federations with a total of 511,000 members.

Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) president Said Iqbal said the fragmentation among Indonesian labor unions was only a matter of geography but clearly not because they shared extremely different goals.

“If we look closely at all labor unions in Indonesia, we can easily conclude that they actually work to focus on promoting several issues, including the abolition of the outsourcing system and the implementation of fair regional minimum wages and a social security system,” he said.

“So basically it’s not difficult to unite them as long as they agree to highlight which issue they want to promote in a particular period.”

Iqbal, who was appointed chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) last week, said the recent rally in Bekasi and Tangerang had shown that the labor movement in the areas, where labor-intensive companies are concentrated, was obviously more vibrant than those in smaller cities.

According to Iqbal, the recent awakening of the labor movement from its long slumber is because labor activists are in the process of consolidating and building a new and stronger support base.

There are currently about 100,000 labor unions registered in private companies throughout the country. These unions can opt to affiliate with any of the 90 existing workers federations.

The federations can also attach themselves to one of the country’s four labor confederations: KSBSI, KSPI, the All-Indonesian Workers’ Union Confederation (KSPSI) and the Congress Alliances of Indonesian Labor Unions (KASBI).

Infighting currently plagues the KSPSI, which is now led separately by former manpower and transmigration minister Jacob Nuwa Wea and labor activist Syukur Sarto.

The government and Apindo usually invite the four confederations, along with several major federations, to represent workers during lobbying or discussion on labor-related issues.

Apindo chairman Sofjan Wanandi said the real “battlefield” for employers and workers was currently at the regional level, as governors, regents and mayors now had the authority to set the annual regional minimum wages under recommendation from the Regional Wage Council (DPN), which consists of representatives from the local administration, Apindo, major local labor unions, academics and experts.

“But usually, regional leaders ignore the DPN’s decision, and unilaterally raise the minimum wages way higher, especially when they have been aggressively pressured by labor unions or when they are aiming to re-run in upcoming regional elections,” he said. Businesses have always proposed the ideal formula of the annual wage increase based on inflation plus 5 percent. However, to please workers and net support, most regional governments usually introduce higher numbers.

Businesspeople have also questioned the representation of workers in most of the existing labor unions.

According to Sofjan, only one-third of the 90 workers federations have a significant number of “real workers” as members.

“The others act more like NGOs. They only have a small number of members but are usually eager to protest employers hoping to get financial benefits either from us or from a third party,” he said.

Labor researcher Indrasari Tjandraningsih from the Bandung-based Akatiga social analysis center said that players in the labor movement nowadays were “smarter” compared to those in the past decade, mainly because most of their leaders had university degrees and a vast network with established local and foreign labor organizations.

Indrasari suggested that the government open dialogue with these new breed of labor leaders since she believed that they had the intellectual capability to engage in talks.

“Even if they have to stage a protest, labor unions will not do it in front of their companies, but at the House of Representatives, ministerial offices or the presidential palace, showing that they understand the labor system and know who they should protest to,” she said.

“Shutting down toll roads is only their last resort when negotiations collapse.”


New breed of unionists rising to the top

Hasyim Widhiarto, The Jakarta Post | Tue, 02/07/2012 10:21 AM A | A | A |

Taking a break: Labor unions in Bekasi, West Java, showed who held power on Jan. 27 by bringing some 3,000 factories in the industrial base to a screeching halt in protest of a court ruling that annulled a gubernatorial decree on increased minimum wages. JP/Nurhayati
Since the reform era began in 1998, the union movement has been primarily driven by activists who were unemployed or had no affiliations to employers.

Workers’ union icons like the now-retired Muchtar Pakpahan and Djumhur Hidayat, the head of the government-sanctioned National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers, are just two examples of this.

But now, a group of educated and politically wired activists are leading the charge for workers’ rights.

So far, they have fared well.

At first glance, Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) chairman Said Iqbal, 43, does not look the part, dressing more like a business executive than an activist.

But his clout cannot be overlooked: the FSPMI is the most influential workers’ union in Bekasi, with more than a third of the union’s 130,000 members working for manufacturing companies in the regency. The rest work in Tangerang, Banten and Jakarta.

Iqbal made his name after masterminding the notorious Jan. 27 rally in Bekasi, West Java, in which tens of thousands of workers cut off access to the Jakarta–Cikarang toll road and paralyzed economic activity in the industrial areas.

The Bekasi unrest erupted after the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) filed a lawsuit against the West Java administration, which had endorsed a rise in minimum wages exceeding 15 percent — more than four times the size of last year’s inflation rate of 3.79 percent. The unions agreed to end the protest on Jan. 28 following Apindo’s decision to comply with their demands

Due to his success in giving businesses and the government a hard time, Iqbal was last week promoted to chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI), one of the country’s four union groupings that oversees hundreds of workers’ organizations.

As FSPMI’s leader since 2006, Iqbal claimed he was still registered as a manager of Japanese electronic giant Panasonic’s business in Bekasi, but rarely showed up at work due to his union activities.

“Since I was appointed FSPMI chairman, my employer has allowed me to work full time for the organization,” Iqbal said, adding that he still received a monthly salary from the company.

Iqbal, who has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Indonesia, works from a 350 square-meter house on Jl. Raya Pondok Gede, East Jakarta, which has become FSPMI headquarters in recent years.

He has regularly flown overseas for training and to attend trade union conferences, sometimes as a speaker.

In 2009, Iqbal ran as a candidate for the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in the legislative election in the Riau Islands province. But he failed to secure a seat at the House of Representatives.

The FSPMI’s involvement in the recent strikes might be linked to regional politics. Bekasi Regent Sa’duddin and West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan were endorsed by the PKS and they could struggle to win re-election next month and next year, respectively.

Iqbal strongly denied that the motivation for the recent strikes was political. “Whoever the government is, it’s the duty of all workers’ unions to ensure that every worker receives a proper wage rise,” he said.

Iqbal has been assisted by the 40-year-old chairman of FSPMI’s Bekasi branch, Obon Tabroni.

Obon, who is also the chairman of the Bekasi Workers’ Movement, has run a small car repair workshop with his wife after deciding to quit his job at Panasonic last year, after nearly 20 years with the company.

“I quit because of my choice to completely focus on managing the labor union, without having to worry about receiving pressure from the management,” Obon said.

KSPSI’s Tangerang regency chapter chairman Imam Sukarsa, 39, has become an icon in Tangerang.

On Thursday, Imam will lead workers in blocking the entrances to the toll roads connecting Jakarta to Merak Port and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Iman has also been studying law at the Pelita Bangsa University in Tangerang.

Aside from running the union branch, Imam has been involved in managing the family-owned Islamic boarding school established by his father in Cikupa, Tangerang.

Imam, who once worked for local food producer Indofood, said that he decided to join the union movement as it was a noble way to fight for “many real things to help empower the poor society”.

Imam said his union was the biggest in Tangerang and claimed to have 250,000 members.

Along with more than a dozen unions, KSPSI’s Tangerang branch last month joined a rally to pressure Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah for a 30 percent rise in minimum wages.

Several days later, it joined another rally to protest Apindo’s lawsuit against the Banten administration’s granting of the wage rise.

Imam gained fame after pressuring Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Untung S. Rajab and Apindo representatives to comply with the wage rises during tough negotiations on Wednesday.

Imam’s union has forged an alliance with the Federation of National Workers’ Unions (FSBN) to ignite the movement.

But unlike Imam and Iqbal, FSBN executive Poniman, 35, has been living a relatively humble life.

Poniman started out as a full-time activist in 2005 after leaving his 12-year career with tire company PT Gajah Tunggal.

Officially jobless, the father of one was now living in a 30-square-meter house in a densely populated neighborhood in Batu Ceper, Tangerang, which has also been used as FSBN’s headquarters for over six years.

“Since the house is too small for three people, I asked my wife to return our 6-year-old son to her hometown in Solo, Central Java,” he said, adding that his organization paid Rp 400,000 (US$44.8) per month for renting the house.


Labor unions vow further protests over the remuneration system

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 02/08/2012 9:11 AM A | A | A |
Labor unions and four of their main umbrella organizations are urging the government to completely overhaul the national remuneration system, including minimum wage regulations.

The unionists have claimed that the existing system has hampered improvements in social justice and has reduced workers’ purchasing power every year.

A powerful alliance of labor unions, including the Confederation of All-Indonesian Workers’ Union (KSPSI), the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Unions (KSBSI) and the Indonesian Confederation of Trade Unions (ICTU) , on Monday warned that they would continue to stage rallies and strike until reforms were put in place.

KSPSI chairman Mathias Tam-bing said that the growing labor movement in several provinces was the last resort for workers in their fight against the “injustice and their exploitation by employers”, who conspired with those in power.

“Do not blame the workers’ blockades of industrial areas and toll roads on the workers, but have a comprehensive evaluation of the exploitative and unfair unemployment system, which has weakened our purchasing power over the past two decades,” he said.

Inspired by the events that saw unions in the Bekasi regency, West Java, force the government and the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) to approve new minimum wages, workers from Banten’s Tangerang regency have threatened to block access to toll roads that connect the capital city to Merak Port and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Feb. 9.

Mathias described the current provincial minimum wages, which range from Rp 600,000 (US$66) to Rp 1.5 million per month, as inhumane.

He said that it was “exploitation” because the majority of workers employed under the contract-based outsourcing system could not support their families during difficult economic conditions.

KSBSI chairman Mudhofir criticized the government for its recently announced plan to revise Ministerial Decree no. 17/2005, which regulated provincial minimum wages. He said the government should identify core problems with the remuneration system instead of evaluating the decree.

“The remuneration system should be put in the wider context of economic growth and per capita income. It must be deliberated by decision makers in the government and corporate CEOs, instead of human resource managers,” he said.

Indonesian Metal Workers Union (SPMI) chairman Said Iqbal warned that workers could no longer exercise patience when facing the unjust remuneration system and would continue their campaign to get humane and fair treatment.

Businesses have expressed opposition to the government’s plan to evaluate the remuneration system, saying that the country’s high unemployment rate should be taken into account.

“The government cannot force businesses to revise the remuneration system and [it] should leave it to the market mechanisms,” Apindo deputy chairman Hasanuddin Rahman said.

Hasanuddin argued that higher wages were only possible for workers who were strongly competent, while the majority of unskilled Indonesian workers only achieving an elementary or high school education.


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