With Indonesia joining more than 80 other countries by declaring May 1 a national holiday from next year, thousands of workers in Jakarta kept calm for International Labor Day on Wednesday.
Union leaders attributed the peaceful May Day to a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono at the Presidential Palace on Monday when he promised quick resolution of many labor issues.
Abdul Latief of the Federation of State Enterprise Workers Unions ( FSP-BUMN ) said industrial tension would never have happened if the President had held such talks since he took office in 2004.
Said Iqbal from the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union ( KSPI ) said that workers would not strike if employers held sincere dialogues based on equal partnership.
'Workers will not just stick to their demands. We prefer win-win solutions to industrial disputes, with employers transparent and accountable,' said the rally coordinator.
'Anarchy, sweeping, rallies and strikes will not happen, or can be minimized, if businesspeople commit to good industrial relations and equal partnerships with unions in dialogue, and adopt good corporate governance,' he said.
Chair of the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperity Trade Unions ( KSBSPI ) Mudhofir believes the government should be a neutral facilitator and mediator in industrial disputes.
Employers have objected to the May Day holiday which they say will cut working hours and productivity.
There are already 15 national holidays on the calendar.
Indonesian Employers' Association ( Apindo ) chairman Sofjan Wanandi said employers repeatedly expressed their objections when the holiday was proposed.
Apindo is open to dialogue with workers and will send representatives to the national tripartite forum to settle industrial disputes. 'The government and security agencies should take measures against anarchic industrial action and maintain legal confidence to protect the investment climate,' he said.
Thousands of workers from the People's Movement against Capitalism ( Gerak ) also backed away from their plan to peacefully occupy
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, with hundreds of police and soldiers guarding all access to the site.
'All unions in the regency agreed to conduct peaceful rallies on May Day and if they violate the agreement, we will certainly take stern measures,' Tangerang police chief Sr. Comr. Bambang Priyo Andogo told The Jakarta Post.
More than 120,000 workers from Jakarta and the satellite cities of Depok, Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi marched from the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle to the Presidential Palace, halting traffic and business
activity at the heart of the capital.
The workers delivered their demands before forming into small groups to march on other government offices and the House of Representatives in scorching heat and torrential rain. The rally dispersed at 5 p.m.
A lively celebration was seen in Serang, Banten, as Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah and Deputy Governor Rano Karno entertained workers gathered in the city square.
At the event, the workers were involved in several activities such as blood donation, mass circumcision and presentations of scholarships to students.
As an appreciation of the workers, the governor promised them free shuttle buses, affordable housing and higher wages.
The workers in Depok, however, were not so lucky as Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail failed to meet them and went to Sukabumi in West Java instead, on an official visit.
'We decided to join the rally in Jakarta despite warnings from the police because we need to voice our demands to the government,' said Wido Pratikno, secretary of the Federation of Indonesia Metal Workers Unions in Depok. ( hae/tam )
Multa Fidrus and Yuli Tri Suwarni contributed to the article from Tangerang and Depok.