Archipelago

Workers movement: Apathetic,
fragmented, chaotic

The labor movement calling for an increase in North Sumatra’s minimum wage is now in jeopardy after workers grouped under the Federation of Indonesian Prosperity and Trade Unions (KSBSI) gave up and accepted the recently approved wage rate.

Hundreds of workers, including members of the KSBSI, staged a counter-rally in front of the governor’s office here on Wednesday to show their support for the governor’s decision to raise the provincial minimum wage to Rp 1,375,000 from the current Rp 1,205,000, an alliance of 18 small labor unions at Belawan Port continued to demand a significant increase to Rp 2.2 million per month.

Usaha Tarigan, a KSBSI unionist, criticized the politicking which he said was behind the current labor union movement to force the governor to revise the gubernatorial decree and raise the minimum wage far above the minimum physical need in the province.

North Sumatra is Indonesia’s fifth-largest province in term of gross domestic product (GDP) after Jakarta, East Java, West Java and Central Java.

The province is well-known for its plantations — which include rubber, oil palm, cocoa, coffee and tea — that are the backbone of its economy.

“We reject the politicking apparent in the movement to raise the minimum wage to Rp 2.2 million. The level set by the government is ideal for workers in the province,” Usaha said during a free speech forum in front of the governor’s office.

Usaha also asked the security authorities to take strict action against workers engaged in anarchic behavior during the industrial strike.

Fourteen demonstrators were detained when hundreds of workers, who rallied on Jl. Gaharu in the city, pelted stones and set a police car on fire on Tuesday.

The incident occurred when a police officer refused to move his car out of the way of demonstrators who were traveling down the street and instead took out his handgun. The police officer fled the scene to escape the infuriated demonstrators.

Hundreds of port workers forced their way into a factory compound, damaging the factory gate in the process. It is alleged that many of the demonstrators entered the factory to loot; however, they ran
off following the rapid arrival of marine soldiers.

The secretary-general of the 1992 Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union (SBSI 1992), Bambang Hermanto, although voicing regret over the behavior at the factory, criticized the counterstrike that supported the governor’s decision.

“Those supporting the minimum wage set by the governor are on the provincial wage committee,” he said, adding that the KSBSI’s support for the governor’s decision was not representative of workers in the province.

Bambang restated that in the coming days, workers would continue to protest in the streets of the city as well as in the port until the governor annulled the gubernatorial decree and met their demands.

“We will continue staging rallies to reject the minimum wage set by acting governor Gatot Pudjo Nugroho,” he said.

The acting governor called on workers to end their strike because the figure of Rp 1,3750,000 was the highest level he could authorize for workers at the present time.

“I appreciate the workers demands, but on behalf of the government. I have to say that it is the maximum that we can do,” he said, adding that the figure was a higher than the level proposed by the provincial wage committee.

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