The overwhelming message on May Day from the thousands of workers who took to the streets in rallies nationwide was a call for better wages amid tougher working conditions.
In the capital, employees from various industries descended on the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta on Sunday. Among them were members of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), who carried a mock cage to protest their working conditions.
Winuarto Adhi, head of the AJI union, told the Jakarta Globe that they were demanding greater protection from the government in response to the growing number of acts of violence against journalists.
“Indonesian journalists face bigger challenges these days, such as an intimidation, threats or destruction of property,” he said “This is evident in the increasing number of violent incidents targeted at journalists. Unfortunately, these cases have rarely been thoroughly investigated by the police.”
Siti Damiti, a street vendor at the rally in Jakarta, bemoaned rising food prices and the perceived marginalization of informal-sector workers.
“Even though food was expensive before, at least we didn’t have to leave home to earn enough to eat,” she said.
She added that she was disappointed with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for neglecting the poor and kowtowing to foreign investors.
“If he wants to make things better, he shouldn’t let foreigners exploit Indonesia and make us strangers in our own land,” Siti said. In Bogor, 500 workers from various factories in the area took part in a similar rally.
Devi, a worker at a textile plant, claimed that she only earned Rp 930,000 a month ($110), far below the minimum wage in Bogor of Rp 1.17 million. She said she could earn Rp 1.6 million, but that would mean working a 12-hour shift.
Yuyus said that he felt compelled to keep working to support his family. He said his job at a mattress factory paid him Rp 1.9 million a month, which was just enough to cover the needs of his wife and four children.
“I’ve worked for 20 years [at the factory], and even though I’m nearing retirement age, I’ve got to keep working because I’m the sole breadwinner in the family,” he said.In Malang, East Java, around 600 workers marched on the City Council to protest violations of the minimum wage, union-busting tactics by employers and the lack of social security for workers’ families.
Mistiani, a factory worker and mother of one, said that she only earned Rp 800,000, while the minimum wage was Rp 1.08 million.“The unions have repeatedly pressed for a wage hike in line with the minimum wage, but to no avail,” she said.
The rally was closely guarded by 600 police personnel and proceeded peacefully. But in Makassar, South Sulawesi, protesters blocked the road to the city’s Sultan Hasanuddin Airport, forcing flight delays of up to half an hour.
The members from nine unions made an attempt to take over the airport but were held off by 300 riot police. They finally dispersed after a two-hour standoff.