Thursday, July 12, 2007

Workers rally, govt unmoved

National News - May 02, 2007

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Tens of thousands of workers staged noisy rallies in major cities throughout Indonesia on Tuesday to mark International Labor Day and to voice a number of demands around welfare improvement and work safety.

But each of their demands -- which included making a public holiday of May Day, safer working conditions, hikes in basic wages and tax exemptions for low-income families -- was turned down by the government.

"These (demands) are difficult to meet because labor is a profession," Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Tempo Interaktif news portal.

"All professions like farmers, soldiers and teachers (could) also ask for their own national holiday.

"Even journalists will ask for a holiday," he said.

Speaking at a news conference in response to the rallies, Kalla said Indonesia already had 15 holidays -- the highest among Asian countries.

He said contract work, which was widely criticized during the rallies, was a necessary part of many industries.

"It's impossible for companies to have a large quantity of permanent workers," he said.

In Jakarta, trucks carrying workers flocked to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle where protesters waved red flags, while other workers marched to a heavily guarded Presidential Palace.

Jakarta Police sent more than 20,000 officers to the various landmarks where many protesters had assembled.

In the East Java cities of Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Jember and Kediri, workers protested their poor working conditions and an across-the-board lack of support from employers.

Rallies were held around a number of landmarks in Surabaya, including Grahadi state building and Republic of Indonesia Radio station.

In Sidoarjo, workers employed by a number of big companies assembled at the city's square, in front of the local legislative council.

In Jember and Kediri, workers together with activists from the Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI) emphasized the importance of the struggle for justice in Indonesia.

Workers wages were also on the national protest agenda -- crowds argued that "not much had changed".

Some workers said conditions had deteriorated -- and blamed escalating prices of basic commodities sparked by the hike in fuel prices.

Jamaluddin of the East Java chapter of the Alliance of Struggling Workers demanded the introduction of a standard national wage structure to prevent employers taking advantage of their staff.

"The working contract system or outsourcing, which (is one source of) injustice, has to be wiped out," Jamaluddin said.

Wages in Indonesia are among the lowest in Asia, with a basic monthly salary for a factory worker sitting at about Rp 860,000 (less than US$95).

In Palu, Central Sulawesi, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono shared his time informally with hundreds of workers while they gathered for a meal under a tent.

In Bandarlampung, workers strongly criticized the government's labor conditions, which they said did not recognize laborers' needs enough.

Thousands of workers in Semarang, Central Java, entered the Simpang Lima area in stages by motorcycles, public vans and trucks.

They caused traffic jams at a number of points but no clashes with authorities were reported.

Similar rallies were held in other major cities, including Makassar in South Sulawesi, Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara and Palembang in South Sumatra.


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