The Indonesian economy has been booming due to high prices for the commodities it is based on, but living costs are also rising and there is a strong sense that the country’s economic successes have not been shared. This has triggered a number of strikes across Indonesia in late 2011 and the start of 2012, some of which have succeeded in gaining higher wages.
In November 2011 a planned strike in Jakarta by 85,000 unionised workers was called off after the city governor agreed to raise the minimum wage by about 20 per cent.
More than 8000 workers and 1600 contractors struck at the Freeport copper mine in Papua. The three month strike, from September to December, was the longest in Indonesian history and slashed production at the lucrative mine by half. The strike ended when workers won a 37 percent pay rise. Employers across Indonesia were said to be worried that the pay deal could spur workers elsewhere to press for higher wages.
Though the strike was said to be over, there were also reports that as of December 22 workers were still not returning to work because the company had failed to guarantee that thousands of workers laid off by subcontractors would be rehired.
In December Papua Police said that they planned to summon a number of strike organisers as part of ongoing criminal investigations. Freeport Worker Union (SPSI) board members were reportedly banned from leaving Timika and dozens of members had been summoned for questioning.
Papua has seen a long-running independence movement over resource revenues, and striking workers were joined by spear-wielding Papuans in blockades of Freeport's supply routes for food and fuel. The company’s main pipeline carrying metal concentrate to its port was sabotaged during the dispute and repairs were hampered due to the ongoing war between independence fighters and the Indonesian military.
On January 27 Freeport appointed a new chief executive at its Indonesian unit in what was widely acknowledged as a public-relations move.
Bekasi, West Java
Bekasi is the fourth-largest city in Indonesia, on the eastern border of Jakarta.
On January 19 and again on January 27 tens of thousands of workers blockaded the toll gates along the Jakarta–Cikarang motorway with motorcycles, creating traffic jams of up to 20km and causing some shops in the area to shut. The workers, from at least 300 companies and four different unions, demanded a rise in the minimum wage. The West Java governor had ruled that the minimum monthly wage be raised from Rp 1. 29 million (A$135/£91) to Rp 1.49 million (A$156/£110), but the Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) refused to recognise the agreement and had gained a court ruling that would overturn it.
Following these demonstrations, an emergency meeting was held on January 27 between the government and the Employers Association, at which they agreed to recognise the original ruling and pay the higher wage.
However, the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry spokesman said it was agreed that if an employer claimed that they could not meet the minimum monthly wage, they would be able to appeal to the governor for exemption.
Batam island, 20 km south of Singapore, was declared a Free Trade Zone in 2006. The Batamindo Industrial Park, built as part of an economic cooperation agreement between the Indonesia and Singapore governments, contains more than seventy multinational manufacturers employing more than 60,000 workers.
In September 2011, five people were injured when rioting broke out at the PT Nexus Engineering Indonesia dockyard.
In November 2011 thousands of striking workers took to the streets for a number of days as demonstrations calling for a higher minimum wage became riots against police brutality.
Ten thousand people demonstrated calling for the mayor to raise the monthly municipal minimum-wage from to Rp 1.2 million (A$124/£85) to Rp 1.76 million (A$183/£124). Two strikers were shot and 21 were beaten by riot police. The military was called in to guard industrial estates after traffic police posts and cars were burnt and a government office was attacked. There were reports that workers and police officers hurled rocks at each other outside the mayor’s office.
Two days later, more than five thousand striking workers demonstrated and damaged several police posts. Most businesses suspended their operations as they did wish to become targets of the protesters’ anger.
On January 18 nine hundred workers at the Batam factory of Varta Microbattery Indonesia, a German company, held a one-day strike demanding a more equitable housing allowance. Eleven unmarried workers receive a housing allowance equivalent to Rp 300,000 per month (A$30/£21): the strikers demanded that this allowance be extended to all workers.
The strike was ended after promises from the company that they would make a decision on January 27. “However, if our demand is not met, we will go on strike again and block the Batamindo Industrial Zone together with the trade unions of other companies operating here, because our demand is part of those working in Batamindo,” said an official of PT VMI’s Indonesian Metal Workers Union.