Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Workers' right to unionize still shaky in Indonesia

National News - October 31, 2006
Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Unions (KSBSI) filed 20 complaints with the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry on Monday.

The complaints were made on behalf of workers who claimed they had been denied their right to form unions. Many had been fired or demoted.

KSBSI chairman Rekson Silaban said the cases had been brought to the labor court, but that there was little hope that the claimants would be reinstated in their old positions.

"We asked the minister to campaign for compliance with the conventions that guarantee workers' rights," Rekson said after a meeting with minister Erman Suparno.

Indonesia ratified ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association in 1998 and enacted a law in 2001 on labor unions, guaranteeing a worker's right to unionize. The law states that groups of 10 or more workers are free to set up a union and allows for the establishment of more than two labor unions at a company level. It prohibits employers from dismissing, laying off or demoting workers for reasons of activism.

All labor unions must be registered with the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry or its provincial or regency offices. The law carries a maximum five-year jail sentence or a maximum fine of Rp 500 million for companies or employers who discourage, intimidate, or prohibit their workers from setting up unions.

Rekson said that in the 20 cases, 16 SBSI unionists were dismissed, 30 were involuntarily moved to other offices and hundreds of SBSI members were dismissed without any severance payment from the management.

He particularly criticized the management of PT Freeport McMoran Indonesia for encouraging the Confederation of All-Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) at its copper and gold mine in Timika, Papua, but dismissing SBSI unionist Siringoringo and allegedly intimidating workers who supported the establishment of an SBSI unit at the giant company.

"Siringoringo was dismissed after he was accused of stealing. There was no evidence that he had stolen anything from his workplace. If the management had evidence, they should have taken him to court, instead of taking the law into their own hands," Rekson said.

He added that Indonesia's corrupt judiciary made it difficult for workers and labor unions to afford the costs of industrial disputes.

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo), Djimanto, defended employers' authority to dismiss, demote and lay off workers in order to improve companies productivity and efficiency levels.

"Apindo has received many reports of the alleged violation of the workers' right to unionize but after checking with the companies, the managements have been familiar with the law on labor unions and the ILO conventions. In many cases, employers have to dismiss workers because of financial difficulties. When there were several unionists among the dismissed workers, is was incidental. Employers have never dismissed their workers because they were unionists or set up their own unions," he said.

In the case of PT Freeport, Djimanto said Apindo had recently facilitated a meeting between the management and SBSI at its main office. The problem, he said, was not the dismissal of Siringoringo but SBSI's demands for a secretariat at the site in Timika.

"Most Freeport workers have joined KSPSI and only a few dozen are members of SBSI. It would be a waste of money if the management had to prepare secretariats for every labor union to set up at the company," he said.


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