National

Better trust and data in
wage deals: Hopeful changes
under Jokowi

A worker: A worker holds up a banner that says “Jokowi, what about your promises?” during a rally in front of City Hall, Central Jakarta, last month. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
A worker: A worker holds up a banner that says “Jokowi, what about your promises?” during a rally in front of City Hall, Central Jakarta, last month. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his deputy have reiterated the administration’s commitment toward a friendly investment climate, while reminding employers to play fair and warning workers against “unrealistic” demands.

Such attitudes may be one source of hope for better negotiations in the future, at least in Jakarta. Among union leaders, acknowledgment of mistakes and talks of better strategies may also lead to less standoffs.

So far it is the varied results of surveys, citing the number of components of basic living costs, along with the alleged under-representation of workers that has contributed to blocked negotiations. Workers blame a lack of transparency while employers complain of low productivity and uncompetitive wages.

Businesspeople and residents are fed up with the annual deadlocks, rallies and extra congestion and cite the 2012 precedent — at least two major industrial sites bowing down to labor demands, with Bekasi and Jakarta administrations agreeing to change regulations on the new minimum wage and increase it.

But last year’s drastic increase of Jakarta’s minimum wages by 44 percent, and the governor’s refusal to back down this year actually brings a source of hope for future wage negotiations — the official recognition and correction of a policy.

Various economic and political factors hover around the annual negotiations but the Jakarta administration under Jokowi and Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama are a breathe of fresh air offering policies that result from negotiations based on available data, reason and trust. That is if they do not back down.

In earning that trust Ahok acts as the bad cop, lashing at employers and unions. Unions charged considerable fees so they should show they worked properly, said Ahok. Unions did not show up at the final negotiations, insisting that the central government first agree to their proposal for more components to be added to the basic cost of living, which would result in Rp 3.7 million (US$319) for Jakarta as of this New Year.

The governor and his deputy explained that last year’s 44 percent increase was a response to wages that were deemed to be too low.

“I told Apindo [Indonesian Employers Association] chief Sofyan Wanandi that labor had been cheated for many years,” said Ahok during the continued rallies in front of City Hall.

This was maybe an unprecedented public rebuke against employers — declaring commitment to a conducive atmosphere for investors, but making it clear to employers that they should pay their dues: not on their terms alone.

“So we were not defending labor,” Ahok said, but with last year’s big increase and their refusal to budge this year did not mean they were defending employers either

He acknowledged that Jakarta’s workers should at least be paid Rp 4 million, but current conditions including the economy made this impossible, he said. “Labor intensive industries like garments should move out from Jakarta” because they could not pay enough for the capital’s living costs, Ahok said.

Ahok reflected on the differences among negotiating parties regarding the basic cost of living surveys: Workers had listed ticket fares for the TransJakarta, he said, while it is the fares for private-run buses such as Kopami that the administration subsidizes.

“I don’t understand why workers spend over Rp 50,000 on cell phone credit,” he said, adding that additional costs should better be allotted for insurance.

Holders of Jakarta IDs are already entitled to free third class medical treatment, though the national level policy may be delayed next year.

Meanwhile, during the rally in front of City Hall a group of workers surrounding Narso, a union leader, pucker up to his proposal, amid the spirited songs and yells from fellow demonstrators.

“What we need is a pilot project,” he said, referring to a proper survey of basic needs in East Jakarta, to become the basis to bargain for future wage increases. There was less scuffles and anarchy this year, compared to last year’s closing of the toll road. Nevertheless, strikes are still associated with violence and business being paralyzed.

A better strategy to improve workers’ lives, he said, would be to negotiate pay levels according to duration of service, or else long-time workers would not be rewarded for their service.

Narso had participated in the latest East Jakarta survey, and he echoed complaints that the components set by the Wages Council — which includes union representatives — were outdated.

Surveyors must fill in the price for a rice cooker of the more multifunctional “magic jar” with a capacity of 0.5 liters — which is rare in today’s market, Narso said.

The component for male underwear cites the “Rider” brand or its equivalent, which barely exists at the same price, he added.

A female worker said workers were arguing for items of better quality and higher prices “so we don’t have to change brooms every month.” And existing wages did not make sense as it means they could only afford five fish a month, another said.

Regarding the survey, Narso said, workers could not even fill in the costs for “rent” in a number of districts. “There were no petakan,” he said, referring to the rows of tiny living spaces usually rented to single workers, with shared washing and toilet facilities.

“There were only houses,” he said, so workers could only rent rooms which were more costly than the Rp 500,000 earlier rents. Further, union leaders cited power being 1,300 watts instead of 900 watts, adding to their rent.

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