Mon, 22 Mar 1999

Laid-off bank employees to take to streets

JAKARTA (JP): Thousands of employees of the 38 banks recently closed by the government plan to take to the capital's streets unless their demands for severance payments equal to 10 months salary are met, a non-governmental organization warned on Saturday.

Bimo Nugroho, chairman of the Professionals Society for Democracy organization, said the estimated 17,000 employees decided to hold street rallies to push their demands to the government, especially the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency.

"It has already happened in Surabaya, where hundreds of the closed banks' workers blocked the gate of the Bank Indonesia (central bank) branch office there.

"We don't want it happens here," Bimo said in a meeting with several representatives of the 38 closed banks at a cafe in Central Jakarta.

He said the belated response of the bank restructuring agency would only disrupt the return of deposits to bank customers.

According to Dede M. Yusuf, chairman of the Liquidated Bank Workers Committee, the low-ranking employees were the most badly affected by the closures.

"We've tried to calm down the low-ranking staff from destructive measures. They expressed their anger at the agency's message, which seemed to reject our demand," Dede, who also attended the meeting, said.

He said the number of low-ranking employees, such as drivers and office boys, was quite large, adding that their average monthly salary was between Rp 300,000 (US$33.33) and Rp 400,000.

"We're not highly paid employees. The government should consider this," said Dede, who claimed to represent 200 workers from the 38 closed banks.

He said the workers rejected the government offer of a severance payment of two months' salary, as stipulated in a government regulation. The employees, he said, would stick to their demand of a payment equal to 10 months' salary.

"It's a realistic demand. During such a time of economic hardship, the money would help us at least until we got a new job. I'm sure the government could provide the funds," Dede said.

He asked why the government could spend trillions of rupiah on the banking recapitalization program but not a tiny percentage of this on the employees of the closed banks.

Severance pay

According to the government regulation, a worker who has been with a company for less than five years is entitled to severance pay equal to one month's salary.

The maximum severance pay is for employees who have been with a company for over 35 years. These employees are entitled to severance pay equal to 11 months' salary.

On March 13, the government closed 38 private banks, nationalized seven other institutions and announced plans to recapitalize nine private banks.

The announcement prompted workers of the closed banks across the country to demonstrate for their goal of "fair" severance payments.

"The payment offered by the agency is too small. It would not allow them to survive in the crisis until they get new jobs," Bimo said.

The meeting at Pisa Cafe developed into a "sad story" session for some employees of the liquidated banks.

Corry Angraini, an employee of Bank Arya, told those present that employees and executives at his bank hugged each other and cried upon hearing the announcement.

"I could not eat and sleep for nights after the announcement," Corry recalled.

Dede, who was a marketing manager at Bank Bahari, said he was earlier sure that the bank would not be one of those closed.

"At first we couldn't believe what we heard. Then we burst into tears after we were really sure that our bank was included in the list of closed banks," he said.

He said bank employees still believed the closure was not simply based on technical and economic reasons, but also on political connections of bankers. (jun)