Fri, 25 Feb 2000

House questions civil servants' right to unionize

JAKARTA (JP): Several factions of the House of Representatives questioned the controversial bill on labor unions that allows the four-million civil servants to unionize and hold strikes.

Taufikurrahman Saleh, chairman of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB) faction, said in the House's plenary meeting with Minister of Manpower Bomer Pasaribu here on Thursday that the bill was controversial as it allows civil servants to unionize while the law on general election requires them to be neutral to ensure their service to the public.

"Besides raising conflicting interests among civil servants, civil servants will have their rights to strike. This means the bill acknowledges their right to stay out of the work place and cease public service," he said.

He warned the House and the government to be extra alert when deliberating the bill.

Taufikurrahman said his faction felt that in general the bureaucracy and civil service should remain neutral and free from political interests.

"We can't imagine what would happen if teachers stop teaching in protest of low payment, or medical staff in state-owned general hospitals stopped giving treatment to their patients unless their social welfare is improved," he said.

Rusjdi Hamka, chairman of the United Development Party (PPP) faction, concurred and said the government will be in a difficult position if it becomes involved in labor disputes with civil servants.

"At least the government should prepare a mechanism to settle disputes with civil servants which is not stipulated in the bill," he said.

Bomer said after the plenary session that despite freedom of association, civil servants should be barred from striking.

"Civil servants should channel their aspirations through existing labor unions," he said, adding the government would issue a regulation on unions among civil servants and their rights.

Minister of Administrative Reforms Freddy Numberi also expressed objection to the bill as it will cause numerous difficulties for the government if civil servants are allowed to establish their own union.

Meanwhile, other major factions called for minor changes to the bill to ensure labor unions' independence, professionalism and democracy.

R.K. Sembiring, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction, said in the plenary session that the bill barely touches on issues such as a union's independence, professionalism and democracy.

"Without being independent, professional and democratic, the bargaining position of labor unions will remain weak and labor exploitation will continue," he said.

He said all labor unions should take Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution as their legal basis.

Wahyudi Indrajaya, spokesman for the Reform faction, said the bill should regulate labor unions' position in relation to the employers' association and the government.

He also urged the government to be strict against employers violating the bill and other labor laws respecting workers' rights and providing protection for them.

Arsyad Sudiro, chairman of the Golkar faction, said labor unions should be required to register themselves at the Manpower Ministry, but this requirement should not be used by the government to inhibit the growth of unions.

"The Manpower ministry should facilitate registration of workers meeting all legal and administrative requirements," he said.

So far, 26 labor unions have registered at the ministry. (rms)