NYT: Discontent Among Indonesian Workers

Indonesian workers demanded higher wages during a protest in Jakarta on Nov. 29 (Enny Nuraheni/Reuters)

The New York Times has this article on the concern, particularly among foreign investors, regarding increased worker militancy in Indonesia.  The articles discusses some of the notable strikes of the past year, including miners at Freeport, KASBI workers at Carrefour, and pilots at Garuda.

“Cheap wages and outsourcing, these are the main issues in Indonesia,” said Abdul Rahman, a Carrefour employee and the secretary general of the union, known as Kasbi, which represents about 130,000 workers.

He and others have been negotiating with the company for improved contracts since a 1,000-person strike in late August, but talks have gone nowhere. The same cycle has played out repeatedly since Carrefour entered Indonesia in 1998, said Mr. Rahman, 33, who has worked at the company for 11 years.

United by discontent, Mr. Rahman and his fellow activists are far from alone. Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, is also among the top 20 economies in the world, with growth this year of around 6 percent. On Thursday, the ratings agency Fitch upgraded the country to investment-grade status. More than 50 percent of its 240 million inhabitants have entered the middle class, according to the World Bank, which defines that as those who spend between $2 and $20 a day. Still, many of them toil for barely a living wage, offering some of the cheapest labor in Asia.

In recent years, though, this labor force has watched certain sectors grow fat on rising commodity prices and booming domestic demand, and increasingly, it is pushing for a greater share of company profits.

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