Thu, 18 Dec 2003

Protests erupt in Bandung and Medan for wage rises

Yuli Tri Suwarni and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Bandung/Medan

Labor protests erupted separately in Bandung and Medan on Wednesday after their respective 2004 minimum wage pay increases were apparently much less than they had hoped.

In Bandung, around 500 workers from dozens of factories staged a rally at the West Java legislative council to protest their new minimum wage of only Rp 565,000 (US$66) per month up from Rp 538,000 in 2003, or a 5 percent raise.

The payment would not meet the workers' minimum living cost in Bandung, they argued.

The demonstrators urged West Java Governor Danny Setiawan to up the wage to Rp 643,057 (US$75.6), to meet minimum living costs as earlier calculated by the Bandung payment council.

The protesters were grouped in five trade unions -- the Federation of Indonesian Free Workers' Unions (Gaspermindo), the National Labor Union (SPN), the Garment and Textile Trade Union (Garteks) and the Federation of All-Indonesian Labor Organizations (GOBSI).

Under the laws, governors are authorized to set their provincial minimum wage based on input from mayors or regents.

On Dec. 2, Bandung Mayor Dada Rosada set the city's minimum wage at Rp 565,000 after considering the proposal from the local payment council after it had taken into account objections from businesspeople.

In responding to those objections, the city's payment council apparently recalculated the local minimum living cost and came up with Rp 565,000, he added.

Bandung payment council head Zisman Samosir said the city's wage was decided based on an agreement of all members of its commissions comprising academics, government officials, employers and labor union leaders.

"We voted on it and made a decision. In fact, all of the members agreed that Rp 565,000 should be the 2004 wage," he added.

The irony of such protests, however is that it is the high cost of doing business here that companies cite as their reason for relocating abroad, and in turn putting more local people out of work.

At least 67 textile companies have had to shut down their operations and lay off thousands of workers due to the annual wage increases and a big drop in production orders from international companies, local businesspeople said.

The closures rendered some 10,000 workers jobless in Bandung this year alone, they added.

A similar rally took place in Medan, where hundreds of workers from the North Sumatra Labor Advocacy Network (JABSU) rejected the 2004 provincial wage of Rp 537,000, a 6 percent rise from 2003.

They offered a warning to the local government to soon change the decision to prevent possible unrest.

The new wage would still not meet minimum living costs, which they argued was some Rp 900,000.

"This government policy ... is a violation of Article 27 (2) of the 1945 Constitution stipulating that every citizen has the right to work and a proper life," protest leader Zainal Abidin said.