Khotiah, a factory worker, said she never expected her back-breaking work spanning 11 years at the Siliwangi Knitting Factory in North Jakarta to end with her dismissal for forming a labor union.
“We formed a labor union in April 2010. We demanded that the factory be responsible for our financial welfare,” she said.
The factory fired her on Dec. 28, 2010, after they had tried to persuade her to dissolve the union by offering her a “better position” as an assistant in the human resources department. “I refused the offer and chose to stay committed to the union,” Khotiah said.
Twenty years ago, a factory worker named Marsinah also formed a union at PT Catur Putra Surya in Sidoarjo, West Java, the watch factory where she worked. She demanded that the company raise the laborers’ wage by 20 percent, and she prompted a labor strike on May 5, 1993.
Later that day, Marsinah disappeared. Her body was discovered in a rice field on May 9 after she had been missing for four days. People believe she was killed for her activism and that the military was involved in her death.
Her rape and murder remain unsolved and in one week the case will exceed its statute of limitations, which means it will be closed permanently with no legal recourse possible.
Today, 20 years after Marsinah, a labor movement icon, was killed, blue collar workers may not experience violence but may still face intimidation and discrimination.
Kudil, a laborer at PT Supra Visual Advertising, said that discrimination still existed in his company, with people who avoided the union retaining their benefits, while those who supported the union lost the rights they were entitled to.
“After we joined the union, we could no longer stay in the employee boarding house and no longer receive our meal allowances,” Kudil said.
Human rights activist Maria Catarina Sumarsih said that after the New Order era, workers might not experience violence similar to what happened to Marsinah.
“During the Soeharto era, the military was very repressive. Whoever dared to challenge the regime would be crushed. The late Feisal Tandjung, who was the military commander at that time, was really tough on people,” Sumarsih said.
“Today, although such kinds of violence might not happen anymore, the state still needs to do extra work to guarantee the fulfillment of laborers’ rights. Recently, we observed the case of Luviana, a journalist from Metro TV who was fired because she formed a labor union,” Sumarsih added.
Aside from being dismissed, today’s workers also experienced more “subtle” discrimination when they formed unions, like the intimidation of family members.
“The company told our family members that if we joined the labor union, our living costs would increase substantially because they would scrap our meal and housing allowances,” Kudil said.
Law No. 13/2003 guarantees the rights of workers to form labor unions.
Participants in this week’s Kamisan silent protest demanded that the president name Marsinah as a national hero of labor rights.
“People should remember that Marsinah was killed because she had advocated for the rights of her fellow laborers. We need to remember this case so the state will be more serious in guaranteeing the rights of blue-collar workers,” Sumarsih said. (ogi)