Monthly Archives: February 2012

Can Recent Protests Translate Into Organizational Power?

In a recent Jakarta Globe article, Rekson Silaban of KSBSI discussed whether the increase in street protests by workers can be translated into organizational progress for labor unions.

Despite the recent victories for labor rights, the ballooning number of labor organizations in the country and their susceptibility to being politicized are worrying activists.

Rekson Silaban, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Welfare Unions (KSBSI), said on Wednesday that existing regulations made it relatively easy to form national-scale labor unions.

“During protests and demonstrations you can find all sorts of unions, and sometimes the lines between the real ones and those that aren’t get blurry,” Rekson said in a discussion on labor issues organized by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club.

According to the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, there are now six national confederations for workers, 91 national-level unions and more than 45,000 regional and sectoral unions registered. Rekson said that to be registered as a confederation, an organization only needed to come up with an address for its headquarters and at least three offices in the regions.

“There will be no verification by the local offices or by the ministry, whether the organization really has 50,000 members like it said, and suddenly this organization has representation at the national level,” he said.

Rekson said he wanted more stringent requirements akin to those that apply to political parties. “The [easy] regulations lead to fragmented unions, and having too many unions may destroy the [labor] movement,” he said.

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Explaining Increase In Labor Protests

A recent Jakarta Post article asked labor activists and experts to explain the rise in worker protests.  Here are their quotes:

Mudhofir – Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (KSBSI)

Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (KSBSI) president Mudhofir, 47, said there was a rise of a stronger and more localized labor movement resulting from the shift in core labor issues in the past few decades.  “Unlike in the past, the agenda of most labor unions nowadays has moved ahead to ensure workers in the regions receive a proper wage. This has made their operation more localized but with a stronger support base,” said Mudhofir

Said Iqbal – Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI)

Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) president Said Iqbal said the fragmentation among Indonesian labor unions was only a matter of geography but clearly not because they shared extremely different goals.

“If we look closely at all labor unions in Indonesia, we can easily conclude that they actually work to focus on promoting several issues, including the abolition of the outsourcing system and the implementation of fair regional minimum wages and a social security system,” he said.

“So basically it’s not difficult to unite them as long as they agree to highlight which issue they want to promote in a particular period.”

Iqbal, who was appointed chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) last week, said the recent rally in Bekasi and Tangerang had shown that the labor movement in the areas, where labor-intensive companies are concentrated, was obviously more vibrant than those in smaller cities.

According to Iqbal, the recent awakening of the labor movement from its long slumber is because labor activists are in the process of consolidating and building a new and stronger support base.

Indrasari Tjandraningsih – Akatiga Center for Social Analysis

Labor researcher Indrasari Tjandraningsih from the Bandung-based Akatiga social analysis center said that players in the labor movement nowadays were “smarter” compared to those in the past decade, mainly because most of their leaders had university degrees and a vast network with established local and foreign labor organizations.

Indrasari suggested that the government open dialogue with these new breed of labor leaders since she believed that they had the intellectual capability to engage in talks.

“Even if they have to stage a protest, labor unions will not do it in front of their companies, but at the House of Representatives, ministerial offices or the presidential palace, showing that they understand the labor system and know who they should protest to,” she said.

“Shutting down toll roads is only their last resort when negotiations collapse.”

Jakarta Globe Profiles Jim Keady

From The Jakarta Globe:

A towering blond, 40-year old Jim Keady’s presence is a stark contrast to the group he has fervently defended for the past decade.

Thousands of workers from a Nike plant in Serang, Banten province, have Keady to thank for a victory against their employer, who withheld overtime pay worth nearly $1 million.

Nikomas, a supplier for athletic wear giant Nike, has also promised to create a reporting mechanism for labor-related complaints in coordination with the National Workers Union (SPN).

To Keady, who operates a nongovernmental organization called Team Sweat, this was not the first victory, but it was certainly the most symbolic since Nike had more than 30 suppliers in the country for its footwear and apparel, employing at least 140,000 workers….

SBY On Recent Labor Unrest

From The Jakarta Post:

“Moral-wise, labor wages should be appropriate to meet the sense of justice,” Yudhoyono told journalists during an impromptu press conference at the Presidential Office on Wednesday.

“If our economy and business world continues to grow, then labor wages should go up in line with that growths,” he said.  The President also said that all local administrations at the regency and city levels should take a share of responsibility in handling disputes concerning labor’s minimum wages in several regions.

“The tri-partite regional wage council [in each region], which consist of representatives from the local administration, businesspeople and labor unions, must be able to address the issue properly. The council knows the life costs in regions, thus, they should know how much the minimum wage in each region should be,” Yudhoyono said.

“Don’t let the disputes be ridden by other interests. I hope this matter is free from any kind of political interests,” he went on.