Monday, October 28, 2013

INDONESIA ::: Indonesian union leaders survivor and more charismatic

Sporting red or blue bandanas, waving flags in the air and chanting songs in unison as they line up along a major street in Central Jakarta, the protesters look like they could be rehearsing for a parade.

Their leader, standing atop a pickup truck that is moving through their ranks, shouts slogans through a loud-hailer.
This is a picture of rising labour militancy in Indonesia - led by young, charismatic leaders, with followers who number in the tens of thousands.
Economic conditions have picked up over the past few years, so labour unions in Southeast Asia's largest economy have been flexing their muscle to demand higher pay, better welfare benefits and an end to outsourcing.
Today, up to three million workers across 20 provinces will take part in the start of a five-day strike to push through their demands, which include a 50 per cent wage hike for next year.
"What you're seeing in the labour movement is the culmination of a decade of transformation - from gathering members in the early years to mobilising (them) and taking action," said Aruna Salam, a former regional representative of the International Metalworkers' Federation.
Unions sprang up as democracy took root after the fall of then President Suharto in 1998. There are now about 100,000 union branches representing four million of the country's 35 million formally employed workers.
Indonesia's labour force is 125 million strong, made up mostly of informal and contract workers.
The unions had been fragmented until recently. Then, younger leaders such as Said Iqbal, 44, and Andi Gani Nena Wea, 37, took the helm of the larger union confederations and banded together to fight for common goals.
These men represent a new breed of unionists who are highly educated, know their rights and have been trained by unionists from Asia and Europe.
The large base they command - some federations boast nearly a million members - also means that union coffers are fatter these days. Some leaders have been spotted in sport utility vehicles that cost S$300 (US$242) a day to rent.
Members contribute at least 1 per cent of their monthly pay to their union, and are given gear ranging from caps to shirts with the words "Solidarity Forever" and union emblems stitched on.
Some cough up as much as 600,000 rupiah (US$54) for additional items such as shoes and jackets carrying their union logo.
"Once they put on a uniform, they feel strong, they identify as a group, they are in higher spirits," Andi Gani, who leads the Confederation of Indonesian Workers' Unions, told The Straits Times. He led 30,000 workers in a demonstration in central Jakarta on October 17.
The unions can effectively mobilise members within 48 hours for a demonstration, he noted.
Last year, they were able to win steep wage increases of 40 per cent on average, so politicians have come knocking on their doors, seeking to win over new constituents.
Gerindra patron and presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto has publicly supported the workers and pledged that he will fight for their cause.
Union leaders deny accepting donations from politicians and businessmen for their demonstrations, which they say are self-funded. A union member pays 100,000 rupiah (US$9) to take part in a rally but receives transport and food allowances.
Insiders say that behind the united facade, the larger unions are vying to outdo one another by staging ever-larger rallies to raise their street credibility and attract new members.
Said Iqbal led a major demonstration in January last year that forced 3,000 factories in the Greater Jakarta area to suspend operations and that blocked off a major toll road.He then became president of the 800,000-strong Confederation of Indonesian Workers Trade Unions (KSPI) and has since appeared on talk shows.
"I am not against investors. In fact, I want investments - they create jobs. But what we are saying is: Please pay us justified wages," said the KSPI leader, who will be leading today's national strike, which involves more than 20 unions.
"Indonesia has started from such a low wage level... workers have been treated as cheap labour and grossly underpaid for too long. We need hikes of more than 30 per cent for several years before wages can catch up with the rising cost of living," he added.
Observers say the unions' call resonates with workers, who feel they have not benefited from their country's growing prosperity. Worse, some of their employers flout employment terms by not paying the minimum wage or not providing legally mandated transport and meal allowances.
The fact that unions' demands are getting bolder and their actions noisier, with just months to go before national elections, is not lost on businessmen.
Sofyan Wanandi, who heads the Indonesian Employers Association, accuses the unions of being funded by politicians and of exploiting this period to get populist demands met.
"Some of them even have political ambitions," he told The Straits Times in an earlier interview.
Union leaders have denied the charge, even though some do belong to political parties.
Said Andi Gani, who is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle: "Politicians are too corrupt to improve welfare. But the actions of labour unions are proven. We will continue to fight for workers."
''''''Message to TAN SRI SYED MOKHTAR AL BUKHARY - Press Release ::: Press Report for DRB
 Group – Termination action against workers exercising their political rights is abhorred. 

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