Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Union Activists Imprisoned for Demanding Workers' Rights

Today the Indonesian state has imprisoned two union activists, Abdul Hakam and Agus Budiono. These two activists, from the union KASBI in Gresik, East Java, have been sentenced to gaol for three months for “unpleasant acts” or, in other words, for struggling for workers’ rights.

Their “crime” stems from their involvement in organising outsourced workers at the company PT Petrokimia Gresik. This company has drastically increased its use of outsourced workers. From only employing 200 outsourced workers through 2 companies in 2006, by 2013 the company employed some 900 workers through 11 outsourcing companies. The workers fought back by unionising and demanding that they be paid at least the legal minimum wage.

The company attacked back. In March 2013 there were mass sackings. The workers that remained faced intimidation, bullying and bribery as the company attempted to crush the union. As part of this attack the company reported Abdul Hakam and Agus Budiono to the police. The “unpleasant acts” law is often labelled as rubber because of the way it is used against activists involved in union organising and demonstrations.

The imprisonment of these two activists comes at the same time 26 union activists in Jakarta also face criminalisation. They are facing charges for their involvement in a demonstration against the new wage regulation. Weekly demonstrations are happening in defense of these activists as their court case continues.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Police and Military Violence Used in Plans for Construction of Airport

More than 1000 police and military personnel were mobilised yesterday, 16 February 2016, in the latest move to force villagers in Kulon Progo off their land to make way for an airport. The police and military were used to allow the government to begin scoping of the land. The local community that have organised resistance to the land grab immediately gathered in response to the presence of the police and military in their villages. The community’s requests for negotiation were rejected and instead their gathering was met with heavy repression. As recounted in the community’s press statement:

“Violence like a rain of punches and kicks as well as other forms of intimidation by the police. Even to the point where children were trampled on when the police were breaking up the gathering of villagers. There was a local that was also strangled and fainted. Even several of the peasants’ possessions including a motorbike and a table of chilli seeds were damaged. This was all because the police used force and violence to gain entry.”

Plans for the construction of an airport in this coastal rural area began in 2011 when the government signed a contract with an Indian investor. Since then the local, regional and national government have been trying to find ways to force the villagers off their land. The community however has been there for generations and make a living by planting chillies, peanuts and melons. Culturally the land is also significant to them, and even from an environmental point of view the community are concerned construction of an airport would put the area at risk of a tsunami as natural sandbanks would be destroyed.

Their protests have been met with heavy repression and intimidation. Pak Agus, one of the community leaders, received a visit from police dressed in plain clothes one night a few weeks back. As he opened the door two guns were held up against him, left and right above his waist. They warned him to stop protesting, to just accept the airport construction and be quiet. But Pak Agus and the rest of the community will not be quiet as they know that they have rights to the land and that if they lose their land they will lose their livelihood, culture and community.  

This is not a unique story in Indonesia. Currently there are hundreds of such projects being implemented with the same harsh repression and disregard for the local communities. The victims are many, such as Salim Kancil who was murdered in September last year in East Java for protesting the development of sand mining. The community in Kulon Progo are worried that it will only be a matter of time before their struggle also results in a death.  In the repression yesterday alone 15 locals were injured.

Messages and statements of support can be sent to Pak Agus at email:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Release Rita: Migrant Workers Not to Blame for Drug Smuggling

Rita Krisdianti: Threatened with the Death Penalty
 The Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union (SBMI) along with other unions and organisations are demanding the release of Rita Krisdianti. Rita is a migrant worker from East Java who was arrested in 2013 at Penang airport in Malaysia. The suitcase she was carrying contained 4kg of crystal meth, but Rita is not to blame. She is just the latest migrant worker to unknowingly find themselves at the bottom of a drug smuggling chain and now potentially facing the death penalty. Her case was to come before court last week but has been delayed.

Rita worked as a house maid in Hong Kong until early 2013 when her contract was stopped. The agency then moved her to Macau but after not receiving further work she planned to return home to Indonesia. Before departing though, a friend offered her a job working for a textile and clothing business. In July 2013 Rita was sent to New Delhi, India where she was given a suitcase which she was told contained clothing materials for the business. She was told to deliver it to a customer in Penang, Malaysia. Rita travelled to Penang to deliver the materials, only to be arrested and told that the suitcase actually contained 4kg of narcotics.

The case was to be brought to court 28 January 2016 but has since been delayed. Rita could be facing the death penalty. Rita is not the only victim of such harsh laws that ignore the situation of migrant workers. More than 200 Indonesian migrant workers are facing the death penalty overseas.

As SBMI explains, the majority of Indonesian migrant workers are females, from poor families, with low education, facing several social issues. Such conditions make them more susceptible to offers of work that can end up involving drugs.

Migrant workers often face terrible conditions and even violence from their employers overseas. The experiences of the two other female migrant workers from Rita’s village demonstrate the many problems they face. One of them has been a victim of sexual abuse by her employer in Singapore. The other developed a cyst while overseas but was assisted by SBMI and was able to receive medical treatment.  These are not uncommon stories among migrant workers who face huge debts, violence and exploitation. The dependency of sending and destination countries on migrant labour means governments are often not willing to take a strong stance on the rights of migrants.

Ramches from SBMI has said they are disappointed by the lack of quick response from the Jokowi-JK government in response to Rita’s court case. “Will Rita’s fate end up the same as other Indonesian migrant workers that have already been executed?”

Workers in Indonesia have begun to show their solidarity with Rita by changing their display pictures on Facebook. The hashtag #SaveRitaKrisdianti has also been widely taken up. Demonstrations have also taken place outside the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta demanding the release of Rita and safety for other Indonesian migrant workers facing the death penalty. 
Contract workers demonstrate in support of Rita
Demonstration in front of Malaysia Embassy, Jakarta 28 January

Friday, November 27, 2015

Four Day National Strike To Reject Unfair Wage Regulation

Banner: National Strike to Reject Government Regulation 78
Unions in Indonesia held a four day national strike last week, 24-27 November 2015. Not dampened by the state repression in October, workers are still standing strong in demanding the repeal of Government Regulation No. 78 / 2015 on Wages.

Under the new regulation the minimum wage will rise each year by a set amount determined by a formula of inflation and economic growth. Based on this formula wages in each region will not be increased by more than 11.5 percent in 2016.

Workers and their unions are outraged by this regulation as it does not take into account the cost of living. Further still, it attempts to weaken unions by no longer involving them in wage negotiations. Unions are calling for a rise in the minimum wage of at least 25 percent.

A worker referring to the minimum wage in the city of Bandung asked “how can a worker with a family meet their basic requirements with a wage that is only 2 million rupiah [~$200 a month]?”

The national strike saw workers across the country walk out of factories and industrial areas and march on government offices. Strikes and demonstrations took place in Tanggerang, Pulogadung, Cakung, Sunter, Tanjung Priok, Bekasi, Cikarang, Karawang, Bogor, Purwakarta, Jawa Tengah, Jawa Timur, Sumatra Utara, and Batam. 



Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and Hong Kong also sent photos of their support for the protests.
'Indonesian Migrant Workers Support the Action to Repeal Regulation 78/2015. Increase Workers' Wages, Oppose Militarism and Criminalisation'
Regional governments are under pressure from the national government to use the new wage formula in determining district wages, but strong workers’ resistance could force them to defy the regulation.

In Bekasi, an area known for its militant worker movement, a member of the district parliament, Nurdin Muhidin, addressed the rally of striking workers. The Bekasi district government issued a letter to the Mayor of Bekasi last month expressing objection to the use of the new regulation, arguing that it was unlawful not to include unions in determining wage increases. But the Bekasi Mayor had disregarded the letter and set the new district minimum wage using the formula.

Nurdin joined the march of workers through the industrial area. However, the rally was broken up by police. Under another recent regulation demonstrations are prohibited in areas deemed national ‘vital objects’, such as industrial areas. This deeply restricts workers’ right to take action. The police arrested four workers and Nurdin. 

Nurdin and union leaders leading the march in Bekasi
Police move to break up the rally

Workers in other areas also faced repression. In Tangerang several workers were injured by thugs who attacked the rally. Thugs in Indonesia are often hired by employers who work with the state to repress workers’ demonstrations.

At a press conference on 26 November, unions stated 42 workers had been arrested in Indonesia during protests against the wage regulation. Police and thugs had also beaten up workers and forced them back to work when they tried to walk out of factories to join the strike. The unions called on President Jokowi to take responsibility for the repression.

Employers hung banners to threaten workers. This one states: If you strike, your wage is cut... What will your wife and children eat?

The national strike has shown workers will continue to fight the new wage regulation. However, if they are to win, the movement will need to be strengthened. In some areas production continued. Even at unionised factories some workers did not take strike action but only joined the demonstrations once their shift ended. The threats from employers and the state repression make it difficult for workers to take action. But unions must also be united when calling for strike action and work to make it a success. If the movement is united and strengthened it can win.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Water Cannons and Tear Gas Used to Disperse Protests over Wages

Tens of thousands of workers from the major unions demonstrated outside the state palace in Jakarta yesterday demanding the new wage regulation be repealed.

The workers are staying strong in their demands that President Jokowi repeal the law that excludes unions in annual negotiations over the minimum wage. They have vowed to continue demonstrations and strikes until their demands are met. But yesterday the government deployed over 15,000 police to break up the peaceful demonstration in Jakarta.

The day began with contingents marching and bussing into the centre of the city. By early afternoon the workers had come together in front of the state palace.

Being a Friday and majority Muslim population, Friday prayers were held on the demonstration.

By nightfall the demonstrators were still strong and showed no sign of giving up.

Eventually the government agreed to meet with union leaders for discussions.

But the government refused to repeal the law and so union leaders returned to the demonstration at 6pm.

Following this police were given the orders to break up the demonstration. Water cannons and tear gas were used to brutally disperse the protesters.   Several videos show the police use of water cannons and tear gas. Here is the link to one:

One worker commented that a better use for the water cannons would be to stop the fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra rather than break up peaceful protests in Jakarta.

Police moved in violently, arresting people and destroying the main vehicle carrying the loudspeaker.

15 union leaders and 2 activists from legal aid were arrested by the police and were still being detained this morning.

Workers are furious by the actions of the police. Demonstrations and strikes are set to continue in the coming days. Some workers are calling for action to be stepped up with strike action in the industrial areas.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Strikes across Indonesia: Workers Say No to Unfair Wage Regulation

Reports of strikes and demonstrations were pouring in yesterday as Indonesian workers began to take action against the government’s new regulation on wages. Under the new regulation the minimum wage will be determined by a formula based on inflation and economic growth. Trade unions will no longer be consulted. With current wages less than $300 a month in many regions, this regulation will see workers remain poor, while investors continue to profit. 

The unions are planning national strike action tomorrow, 30 October, but strikes and demonstrations were already paralyzing industry yesterday.

Below are photos and stories of strikes and demonstrations from yesterday:

Tens of thousands of workers streamed out of factories in one of Purwakarta’s biggest industrial estates, Kawasan Kota Bukit Indah, in West Java, bringing production to a standstill. In addition to rejecting the new regulation, workers in Purwakarta are demanding that the current regional minimum wage of Rp. 2,600,000 a month (~ $260) be increased to above Rp. 3 million (~ $300).

In Karawang, a region also close to Jakarta, production was brought to a halt at the industrial estate KIIC.

In the capital city of Jakarta, workers joined with students in demonstrations outside the State Palace.

The protests continued into the night. These workers traveled from demonstrations at the State Palace to reclaim the Cawang toll road. 

Further out of Jakarta, in Bogor, workers also took strike action.

And in another part of West Java, Subang

Demonstrations against the regulation have also begun in Yogyakarta

And in the outer islands, including in Batam
And North Sumatra

Workers are preparing for further strike action to demand the wage regulation be repealed.

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!