Going the extra mile: Bus passengers are forced to exit a toll road on foot in Belawan, North Sumatra, as the road was blocked by thousands of protesting workers on Tuesday. Local workers have been protesting in favor of a raise in their minimum wage. Antara/Irsan Mulyadi
A widespread industrial strike took place in Medan, North Sumatra, on Tuesday with thousands of workers blockading the Tanjungmorawa-Belawan (Belmera) toll road and disrupting economic activities at Belawan Port and the Medan Industrial Estate.
Entering a second day, demonstrators gathered at the industrial estate after unionists swept factories to force workers into joining the demonstration. Both employers and security guards appeared powerless and gave up when demonstrators damaged factory gates and doors.
Followed by riot police, demonstrators rode buses and motorcycles past the governor’s office to the toll road and Tanjungmorawa, Pulau Brayan and Belawan, causing heavy traffic jams on the main streets of the city.
The toll-road blockade hampered loading and unloading at the port, while production activities at factories in the industrial areas and in Amplas and Tanjungmorawa were halted.
North Sumatra Workers Council chairman Pahala Napitupulu warned of major strikes in the next few days with the possibility of anarchy until provincial and municipal authorities bowed to their demands to revise the newly set provincial minimum wage.
“Acting Governor Gatot Pudjo Nugroho should not wait until workers run amok and the next strikes turn anarchic. The provincial government should be responsive to prevent the industrial strike from getting out of control,” he said when leading the mass rally on Tuesday.
Pahala said that like Greater Jakarta, the minimum wage should be raised to Rp 2.2 million (US$227) from the current Rp 1.2 million to end the cheap labor policy and to improve workers’ purchasing power.
Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Nov. 20 that the 2013 provincial minimum wage had been set at Rp 2.2 million, a 44 percent increase from this year’s Rp 1.5 million.
“What the workers have demanded is in accordance with the survey on the basic cost of living (KHL), which was recently conducted in the city by the Bogor Agricultural University [IPB],” he said, adding that the survey was conducted in line with the revised ministerial decree on 60 wage components.
He expressed concern that the new minimum wage in North Sumatra was set not on the basis of a market survey but more on political and business considerations.
The government recently approved the provincial wage committee’s recommendation that the minimum wage be increased slightly to Rp 1,375,000.
North Sumatra’s Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) deputy chairman Jhon Brien claimed that the wage hike was above the KHL of Rp 1,209,000 and his side would take the governor to court over the gubernatorial decree on the wage increase.
“Apindo will file an official objection to the gubernatorial decree and the workers’ demand,” he said, adding that the government and authorities should take action against unionists sweeping factories and blockading the toll road, which hampered export and import activities at the port.
He claimed that many companies had lost billions of rupiah over the last few days because of the labor rallies.
Medan Industrial Estate president Star Satria Ginting said several Japanese investors had canceled their plans to invest in the province because of the anarchic industrial strike.
Suzuki, a Japanese diplomat in the city, said he had heard nothing about Japanese investors canceling their plans to invest in the province. “Several Japanese investors planned to build factories in the Medan industrial area in Tanjungmorawa but we have not received any information that the investment will be canceled,” he said
North Sumatra Manpower and Transmigration Office head Bukit Tambunan vowed to give the provincial government’s response to the workers’ demand in the next few days.
He said, however, that it would be impossible for the governor to annul the decree on the wage hike because it was set on the basis of the KHL in the province.
Mudhofir, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions (KSBSI), which co-organized the planned week-long labor demonstration, said the governor had been dishonest when he said that the new minimum wage was based on a KHL survey, which would jeopardize his reelection bid.
Mudhofir claimed that the minimum wage could be raised to about Rp 2 million if the government made the decree in reference to the IPB’s independent survey on the KHL in the city.