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Military involvement seen hurting labor protection

Jakarta Post - December 11, 1997

Surabaya – An increasingly excessive intervention by security authorities in many labor disputes has robbed workers of just and satisfying solutions, and of control over situations, an activist says.

The Surabaya Legal Aid Institute's director, Indro Sugianto, told a press conference here yesterday that military intervention in labor conflicts had become even more marked over the past year. As shown during many labor demonstrations in 1997, the presence of security personnel has become more evident. "(The development) has made labor problems even more complicated and more difficult to solve," he said. "Security personnel have always reacted (to worker strikes) by charging that a demonstration was masterminded by a third party."

The legal aid office recorded in 1997 a total of 142 labor strikes [in East Java alone], 10 more than last year, against employers' policy. The demonstrations involved 100,452 workers.

Surabaya saw the most strikes with 55 occurrences, followed by Sidoarjo with 40 and Gresik with 11. The figure excludes the four-day strike of 40,000 workers of PT Gudang Garam cigarette company in Kediri, and that of hundreds of employees of PT PAL ship manufacturer.

"Sometimes, the security officers' intervention took the most naive form," Indro said, citing the handling of a recent demonstration held by hundreds of PT Nor Leather tannery. The striking workers wanted to demonstrate outside the provincial legislative council building. The police picked them up in trucks and promised to transport them there, but instead took them back to the factory. "They went on with the strike but under tight security, and they were barred from leaving the factory site," Indro said.

Indro predicted that there would be even greater labor unrest next year given the tighter control applied by security personnel in conjunction with the presidential election in March.

Furthermore, "October is the time when the new Manpower Law will come into effect and workers' interests will be harmed even more," Indro said.

He also cited the monetary crisis that has forced business people to tighten their budgets and resort to massive layoffs. He said that this year alone, 20 companies had dismissed at least 7,000 workers, all citing the crisis as the reason.

"Those companies have been mismanaged for years. I believe that that next year, the number of people losing their jobs will be even greater," he said. "These layoffs could probably take place silently."

He pinted out that workers had tried to shoulder their share of the burden by demanding fewer wage rises.