Labour discontent grows in Indonesia

Jakarta – Thousands of Indonesian workers recently occupied toll roads linking Jakarta and its suburbs to demand higher pay, causing traffic jams extending several kilometres.

Elsewhere in the country, police clashed with factory workers seeking an increase in regional minimum wages.

Labour unrest has been growing in recent months as discontent over pay and working conditions grow.

Workers from both state-owned and multinational companies have gone on strike.

‘Things have become more difficult for workers,’ said Bambang Wirahyoso, chairman of the National Labour Union. ‘Their minimum wages are too low and they lack protection.’

Of 30 million workers in the formal sector, only 9.7 million are enrolled at the national pension fund Jamsostek, he said.

‘Violations of workers’ rights are rampant, but the government is doing little to tackle the problems,’ he said.

Some of the protests have turned violent.

At least one worker was killed in October during a clash between police and employees of a giant gold and copper mine operated by US company Freeport-McMoRan in Papua province.

After three months of strikes, the company in December agreed to increase wages by 37 per cent.

In the industrial town of Bekasi, just east of Jakarta, workers took to the streets after the Indonesian Employers’ Association took the local government to the State Administrative Court for raising the minimum wage by around 15 dollars a month.

Association chairman Sofjan Wanandi said smaller employers could not afford the raise and they made up 80 per cent of companies in the area.

‘We are defending the interests of these small and medium-sized companies,’ he said.

But Obon Tabroni, who represents about 50,000 employees from different sectors in Bekasi, dismissed Wanandi’s claim.

‘Of 3,000 companies, only 16 have raised objections’ to the increase, he said.

Tabroni said even with the rise the workers could barely make ends meet.

‘Our wives have to help supplement our income by opening small food stalls at home,’ he said. ‘Some of us moonlight as motorcycle taxi drivers at night.’

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