Despite an outward appearance of solidarity in support of demands for improving the welfare of the nation’s workers, local labor unions are divided and out of touch with a majority of their members.
The only thing contributing to the labor movement’s success over the last decade has been an increased number of unions, due to the political liberalization that followed the fall of the New Order and the start of the Reform era.
The secretary-general of the All-Indonesian Workers Organization (OPSI), Timbul Siregar, said that the national labor actions of the last two years have only been effective since labor unions have been united by a common enemy, rather than skillful mobilization.
“The rampant violations by employers on the issue of outsourcing, the cheap labor policy, union busting, social security issues and many other industrial disputes at the corporate level have given rise to a national solidarity among workers and union members. They joined together to launch a strong resistance movement against employers and the government,” he told The Jakarta Post over the weekend.
Timbul said that unions originally started their movement by setting up the Indonesian Labor Movement Council (MPBI), demanding that the government and the House of Representatives endorse the bill that became Law No. 24/2011 on social security providers in November 2011.
This year, unions have staged successful rallies to end outsourcing and to raise the minimum wage.
The strikes, which at times were violent, were held only after unions officials temporarily set aside their political aspirations and affiliation.
MPBI was established by three labor confederations and many small labor unions.
The confederations comprising the MPBI are the All-Indonesian Workers Union Confederation (KSPSI), the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPI) and the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Unions (KSBSI).
The KSPSI is chaired by Andi Gani Nuawea, the son of former manpower and transmigration minister Jacob Nuawea and is affiliated to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
The KSPI, chaired by Said Iqbal, is affiliated with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), while the KSBSI, led by Mudhofir, is linked to the Indonesian Labor Party (PSBI), which is chaired by renown labor activist Muchtar Pakpahan.
The KSPSI has split into camps under the leadership of Andi and under Yorris Raweyai, a Papua-born lawmaker from the Golkar Party.
Local labor unions have rejected proposal for mergers, bucking a global trend, citing differences in ideology and political affiliations.
KSPSI chairman Said Iqbal said that politics and top-down decision making have somewhat weakened the nation’s labor movement.
“Labor unions have several times convened to consider a possible merger, but we failed because of our different ideologies,” he said.
While there are more than 90 unions registered with the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, only a few have more than 400,000 members.
Others are only organizations in name only.
The chief of the industrial relations and social security affairs directorate general at the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry, Irianto Simbolon, said the government has verified all labor unions, and only three confederations have 400,000 or more members at the company level.
“If the labor unions merge and form a big confederation, they will be powerful, especially in their collective bargaining on industrial issues with employers and the government,” Simbolon said.