Workers who have been denied the right to organize a union at the Grand Aquila Hotel in Bandung received positive news recently when the ILO issued a statement in their favor. The decision from the ILO stated that there is evidence that the hotel violated the workers’ right to freedom of association when it unilaterally fired 137 after they informed the hotel that they had formed a union. The ILO gave the Indonesian government as series of recommendations urging it to take the necessary steps, including potentially issuing sanctions, in order to reinstate the workers and give them the freedom to form a union.
Workers Chain Themselves To Gate Outside Hotel Grand Aquila in Bandung (Detik)
Following the decision,workers held a demonstration in which they tied themselves to the gates of the hotel, demanding that management follow the recommendations of the ILO and respect their right to form a union. The workers are attempting to form a union affiliated with Federasi Serikat Pekerja Mandiri, a hotel workers union affiliated with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF).
It will certainly be interesting to see how this decision from the ILO impacts the campaign, which began in September 2008, particularly whether workers can capitalize on this symbolic victory and turn it into real leverage with either the government or the employer. For background on this organizing campaign, see our previous posts here.
Last April I posted about an e-action campaign organized by the Clean Clothes Campaign at the PT Mulia Knitting Factory in Jakarta, a supplier to Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren. Those of you who took that time to send messages in support of those workers will be happy to read that those workers have won the right to form a union with GSBI back in May.
[Thanks to a reader for pointing out this update, which I am admittedly pretty late on]
Human rights activists say, officials ignore the fact that the behaviour is nurtured by the kingdom’s labour sponsorship system, or kafalah. While in most countries maids can simply leave abusive employers, in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states they cannot quit the country or change jobs without explicit permission. Whether an investment banker, lawyer, driver or a maid, all 9m expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia work under a so-called kafeel, or a sponsor. While many enjoy a peaceful existence, abuse of foreign employees is common once a labour dispute arises, activists say. Sponsors often take possession of workers’ passports, deny exit visas or do not give permission to switch jobs.
A labor story that has made national and international headlines earlier this month was the news of an Indonesian maid being brutally tortured by her employers in Saudi Arabia. For full coverage of the story and its aftermath, I would point readers to the Labourstart Indonesia webpage, which has a long list of articles from the past few weeks on the incident, in both English and Indonesian. The incident has caused a lot of discussion in the press about the plight of migrant workers, including the possibility of a moratorium on sending Indonesian domestic workers to the Middle East. One province has already decided on a three month moratorium and the House Deputy Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso was quoted as saying, “[Sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia] must be temporarily halted because [the alleged abuse] affects our dignity as a nation.”
Yet, this is only one in a series of headline grabbing incidents involving abuse of Indonesian domestic workers abroad and, in fact, weeks later the body of another Indonesian domestic worker was found in a dumpster in Saudia Arabia, allegedly killed by her employers. Judging from the press, it seems this case has taken the discussion on migrant workers’ rights much further than past cases, which have often left observers wondering, will this be the case that finally leads to real reform? It will be interesting to see this is the case activists have been waiting for or if it is another moment of moral and national outrage that doesn’t go anywhere? I’ll keep posting news on the topic as it comes out.
The Philippines government recently announced a decision that would allow Philippine Airlines (PAL) to outsource many of its jobs, including airport services, in-flight catering and call centre reservations. This could mean laying off up to 3,000 members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA), severely weakening one the Philippines’ oldest unions and replacing unionized jobs with less secure positions. Through the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), you can send a message to President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, in support of airline workers in the Philippines.
Indonesia’s National Heroes’ Day last Wednesday saw demonstrations by workers across the country in opposition to revisions of current labor law, in particular Manpower Law No. 13/2003, as well as demands that the government fully enforce Law No. 40/2004 on National Social Security System.
In Jakarta thousands of workers marched from Hotel Indonesia to the Istana Negara. You can see video of the news coverage by Indosiar here and MetroTV here. Similar demonstrations were held in Bandung, West Java, Batam, Riau, Medan, North Sumatra, and Suryabaya, East Java. According to organizers at the demo in Jakarta, there are protests in 15 provinces in total.
Oxfam Australia has created two blogs based on the experiences of garment workers in Indonesia. The first is “In My Shoes,” in which Sewani tells her story as a footwear factory worker. The other blog, “Adidas: Stop Wearing Us Out” is a blog written by three workers who were fired by Adidas for participating in a strike for better wages. You can also watch a couple short filmed produced by Oxfam about these workers, which I have embedded below.
Along with these great English language resources, there are also a number of e-actions you can take through the Oxfam website in support of garment workers. Following this link, you can send messages to many of the major garment corporations urging them to respect workers’ rights.