Indonesia strikes marred by anti-union violence


An estimated two million Indonesian workers embarked on a two-day strike on Thursday to call for a fair minimum wage, protection against the hiring of contract workers and universal health coverage.

But peaceful protests were met with violence by hired thugs who attacked workers with iron beams, knives and machetes.

Workers in the towns of Bekasi and Karawang areas were attacked by members of a paramilitary youth organisation said to have been hired by factory managers who wanted to punish those on strike.

According to Prihanani Boenadi, vice president of the International Department for the Federation of Indonesia Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) and the Confederation of Indonesian Workers’ Unions (KPSI-CITU), 17 workers were seriously injured with stab wounds to the head, back, legs, waist and stomach.

Said Iqbal, President of FSPMI and KSPI, has called for the police chief of Bekasi, Kombes Isnaini, to step down from his position after failing to prevent the violence. Police reportedly stood by as the violence took place and did nothing to intervene.

Workers are demanding that the government raise the national minimum wage by about 50 per cent and set the regional minimum wage in Jakarta to 3.7 million rupiah (approximately US$330).

Last year, workers were given a 44 per cent pay increase following similar action across the country.

But this year, a dramatic rise in the cost of living following the end to government fuel subsidies means that more Indonesians than ever are struggling to make ends meet.

“Indonesian workers are putting forward straightforward demands that working people everywhere recognise are just and necessary,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow in a press statement earlier this week.

“Workers there deserve a fair share of the economic cake just like anywhere else, and we wholeheartedly support their struggle for dignity at work and an economy that works for all.”

Indonesia has one of the fastest growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region yet Indonesian factory workers are paid some of the lowest wages in the region thanks to the scourge of outsourcing.

Despite difficult working conditions for all workers, Indonesia’s two other trade union confederations KSPSI and KSBSI did not join the strike at a national level.

However, KPSI said it had received widespread support from the other unions at a provincial and district level, as well as public support from other civil society partners.

On Friday, 100,000 workers from the Pulo Gadung industrial estate in Jakarta are planning to march on Jakarta City Hall, where the city’s wage council have convened to set the regional minimum wage for 2014, before holding a mass rally in front of the presidential palace.