National Strike Begins as Workers Demand Healthcare and Higher Pay
As the Jakarta wage council sat down today to set the regional minimum wage for 2014, a two-day strike began across the country and workers took to the streets.
“Our protests are concentrated in industrial areas,” Said Iqbal, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers (KSPI), told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday. “We stopped production because we are protesting policies that affect workers’ welfare.”
Two million workers in 20 provinces have joined the strike, he said, including 250,000 workers in the Pulogadung and Cakung areas and 300,000 in Bekasi.
The unions were demanding an average national wage increase of 50 percent, he said. In Jakarta, they hoped to see the minimum wage set at Rp 3.7 million ($334) per month.
Apart from wages, workers are demanding rules against outsourcing and universal health coverage for all Indonesians by Jan. 1, 2014.
The wage council — which has 28 members and is made up of workers, employers and city administration representatives — began its deliberations at Jakarta city hall at 3 p.m.
Iqbal said the workers’ contingent would not attend the meeting because they rejected the premise of today’s conversation, since it was based on a cost of living index (KHL) that no longer remained accurate.
“How can we discuss the minimum wage, the basis for which is the reasonable cost of living index, which has already changed?” he asked.
The city claims that the minimum reasonable cost of living is Rp 2.2 million per month, while the KSPI argues that Rp 3.7 represents the true cost.
Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo said that the city deferred to the central government’s criteria in determining the index.
Protests are expected to continue on Friday as the regions set their wages.
Deputy Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama said that the city would set the wage today, whether or not the workers chose to attend the meeting.
“If they don’t want to join the wage council meeting, then it is okay,” he said. “What’s most important is that we will still decide the minimum wage for 2014, and that we decide on a fair amount.”
Basuki said the administration understood both sides of the debate.
“I’ve said it many times, if [employers] in Jakarta pay under the KHL, then move your factories,” he said. “But if you ask for salaries above the KHL, just open your own business.”
Based on the current rate of economic growth, which is just above six percent, Basuki predicted that the minimum wage would go up 10 percent.
Sarman Simanjorang, deputy head of the Jakarta branch of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), said 37 companies — mostly in the state-controlled industrial area of Kawasan Berikat Nusantara — had submitted letters asking for no increase in 2014.
“Most are foreign investors,” he told Indonesian new portal Liputan6.com on Thursday.
Most of the requests had come from the garment and textile industry, he said.
According to Sarman, the letters argued that the 44 percent increase in wages last year had placed an unfair burden on employers that would force some of them to move if minimum wage continued to rise.
“If the wage is increased, they could really relocate their businesses outside Jakarta, to other cities and even to other countries,” he said.
In Depok, south of Jakarta, three retailers — Giant, Carrefour and Tip Top — were closed this morning due to the strike. Tip Top, a supermarket, reopened in the afternoon.
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Cmr. Rikwanto said that 17,276 officers had been assigned to manage traffic and maintain orderly conduct during the strike.