Mon, 17 Oct 1994

Latief asked to explain Pakpahan's trial to world

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto has asked Minister of Manpower Abdul Latief to tell the world that the Medan trial of labor activist Muchtar Pakpahan is of a criminal nature.

The ongoing trial is not a show of might to repress workers demand for better pay, Soeharto was quoted by Latief as saying Saturday.

Latief, who met with the President to report on Indonesia's planned participation in the International Labor Union in Geneva, said he had been besieged by inquiries from international organizations about Pakpahan's trial.

The chairman of the Prosperous Labor Union (SBSI) trade union is standing trial in the North Sumatra capital of Medan on charges of inciting a violent labor demonstration in that city in April.

One businessman was killed and many shops and factories were vandalized in the demonstrations in which thousands of workers from Medan and nearby towns demanded higher wages.

"The case was brought to trial because there was an incident that caused damage to property as well as a fatality," Latief said.

In a related development, the Medan court last week sentenced the secretary of the local branch of SBSI, Hayati, to seven months in jail after the judge found her guilty of inciting the violence.

The council of judges said that Hayati, 21, organized a series of meeting with labor activists to plan street demonstrations. The judge had demanded one year.

Earlier the court convicted another local SBSI secretary, Riswan Lubis, 26, of a similar offense and sent him away for eight months.

Latief said that President Soeharto reiterated that the ministry of manpower would phase out the export of unskilled workers so that eventually only professional jobseekers can be sent overseas.

According to government statistics, more than half of the 384,830 overseas Indonesian workers make a living in Saudi Arabia with 156,000 in neighboring Malaysia.

Latief said the bulk of Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia are domestic maids. In the future, he said, more skilled workers are expected to be able to take better-paying jobs. (pan)