Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Workers' rallies could boomerang on them: Minister

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousands of workers from various labor unions continued their rowdy rallies on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the two controversial labor bills, a move labor experts claim will backfire on the workers themselves.

The rallies turned ugly when the police called up water cannon as the workers began shaking the House's entrance gate.

The gate, which was newly erected after it was brought down by other demonstrators last month, finally collapsed, but the police prevented the protesters from moving further into the grounds of the House building.

The protesters were demanding that the House throw out the two labor bills, which they consider as disregarding workers' interests and siding too much with business, and draft new bills from scratch.

The two bills have also been rejected by employers, who consider them as protecting workers too much at the expense of employers. The employers are demanding that the House and the government revise at least 47 articles concerning five issues -- strikes, dismissals, remuneration, night work and sanctions against employers.

The rejection of the bills by both sides has prompted the government and the House to postpone the passage of the bills until the next sitting.

Labor expert and former manpower minister Bomer Pasaribu criticized labor union rejection of the two bills, saying that it would not do them any good.

He contended that the bill on industrial dispute settlement was a lot better than the prevailing law.

He said the bill provided for better and faster resolution for both workers and employers.

"Under the bill, a dispute can be resolved by an independent court within several months, while under the existing law it can take years to settle a dispute," he said.

Besides, the prevailing mechanism for resolve industrial disputes could be tampered with by employers, he said.

Bomer, nevertheless, agreed that the labor protection bill needed some revisions on a number of contentious issues, but the entire bill should not be discarded altogether.

He said the various parties must sit down together and discuss the best compromise regarding the various issues involved, ranging from strikes to compensation for resigning workers.

Separately, Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea, himself a former activist, said the government would press ahead with its intention of having the two labor bills endorsed by the House.

"In our view, the bills are better than the previous ones. We're not planning to draft new bills," he said.

The labor bills, expected to replace suspended Law No. 25/1997 on manpower, have raised controversy as the they have been rejected by both labor unions and the business community.

Numerous revision have been made on a number of contentious issues, including workers' rights, negotiations, industrial strikes and child labor -- all of which are considered as accommodating labor interests.

As the passage of the bills has been postponed, Law No. 25/1997 on labor, which has also been rejected by both the workers and employers, will come into effect on Oct. 1.

As this 1997 law was no less controversial, the government and the House agreed to draft a new law to repeal its predecessor.

Thus, the status quo will continue. Relations between workers and their employers will continue to be governed by the outdated laws and regulations: the 1957 law on labor dispute settlement, the 1964 law on labor dismissal by private companies, and Minister of Manpower Decree No 150/2000 on dispute settlement.