Thu, 10 Jul 2003

Most workers unrepresented by unions

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea regretted the low awareness of workers about unionization, since only 20 percent of the more than 40 million workers employed in the formal sector have unionized, despite the reform era.

This statistic has raised a major question on the existence of 72 labor unions already registered with the manpower ministry with a deep concern over the workers' bargaining power in bipartite negotiations with employers.

Although 72 unions have been registered so far, the majority of workers are not represented.

Speaking at an informal meeting with the National Tripartite Institution representing workers, employers and the government, Nuwa Wea said that out of approximately 100,000 companies with around 40 million workers in Indonesia, only 16,000 companies employing more than eight million workers have labor unions.

"This means that the 72 labor unions registered with the manpower ministry have competed to represent and fight for the eight million workers employed in the 16,000 companies.

"And it is not surprising to receive reports that a cigarette factory has 17 labor unions. This will pose many problems as to which labor union the cigarette company will negotiate with, when the management is involved in industrial disputes with its workers," he said.

Nuwa Wea, also chairman of the Confederation of All-Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI), said that besides the fact that many companies had difficulties appointing labor unions with whom they would work to draw up collective labor agreements (KKB), it was also a fact that the majority of workers had weak bargaining power since they were not represented and had no collective labor agreement with their own management.

The minister called on labor unions to expand to companies whose workers had yet to set up unions in an effort to strengthen their bargaining power, especially in making collective labor agreements.

A collective labor agreement, which the Labor Law requires to be renewed biannually, regulates remuneration, overtime rates, dismissals, layoffs and severance pay, and many other industrial relation issues. Articles in the agreement are usually better for workers than those set by the government.

Nuwa Wea acknowledged that he found it difficult to appoint workers' representatives in tripartite bodies such as the National Tripartite Institution, the National (Tripartite) Waging Body and the Central (Tripartite) Industrial Dispute Settlement Committee (P4P).

"In the tripartite bodies, the government has decided to give seats proportionally to the three major labor unions -- KSPSI, the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Union (KSBSI) and the Indonesian Workers Union Congress (KSPI)," he said without elaborating as to the size of their membership.

During the 32-year dictatorial regime of Soeharto, only the All-Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI), which was backed by the government, was allowed to represent workers, and most industrial disputes were settled with the help of security authorities.

Following Soeharto's downfall in May 1998, Indonesia ratified ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention No. 98 guaranteeing workers' right to unionize.