The Jakarta Post
Berthold Huber, president of Industriegewerkschaft Metall (Ig Metall), the metalworkers' union of Germany, recently visited the country. Besides meeting unionists and government officials, Huber also witnessed workers rallies opposing the fuel-price hike, outsourcing, precarious working practices and halfhearted national social security programs. Huber spoke with The Jakarta Post's Ridwan Max Sijabat regarding labor conditions in the country. Below is an excerpt of the interview.
Question: What do you think of the country's labor movement in Indonesia?
Answer: Labor unions have grown rapidly and are moving in a very dynamic manner. They quickly left behind old issues and are facing new ones, such as outsourcing, cheap labor policies, health and safety at work, education and training. They are raising these new issues to secure a better future, and workers are easily mobilized because of their common interests.
What do you think of the emergence of workers' unions?
Many countries have numerous workers' unions. A similar phenomenon is also found in Italy, Germany and Scandinavian countries. The most important thing is they need to be united when they speak out. There is no necessity to have all the labor unions incorporated into one confederation; they should not be under one umbrella. Difference and pluralism must be respected but labor unions must leave aside their differences and unite in fighting for their common purposes and interests.
Indonesia has adopted the Anglo-American system in that workers are divided and every company or factory has its own union or several unions. And now is a good time, amid the country's robust economic growth, for workers and labor unions to launch a common struggle to phase out outsourcing, the contract system, precarious working conditions and the cheap labor policy, and press on the pedal to implement the national social
What is your opinion on the involvement of labor unions in politics, like workers' rallies opposing the fuel-price hike?
Sorry, I will not comment on the fuel-price increase because it is Indonesia's internal matter, besides the fact that Europe is also facing a similar problem. However, workers' unions have to involve themselves in practical politics, and they have to stand up and move on to ensure that everyone is covered in the national social security program and fight for their common aspirations.
They do not necessarily set up their own political parties or support certain political parties because the people, especially workers, know which party they have to vote for.
Are you aware of rampant union-busting and the cheap labor policy?
Union-busting is not found in Europe; it is, however, widely known in the Anglo-American system and it is part of the oppressive capitalist system.
Union-busting and the cheap labor issue should be addressed properly, and democracy will work if the government listens to workers, too, and not only to employers.
Is this the effect of the so-called neoliberal economic system?
I could write a big book on neoliberalism, which has manipulated the capital market to blindly make profits. It does not care about social justice and it has no future. The most important thing is that in a democracy and through free elections, labor unions and civil society groups should use their voting rights and win people's support to gain power and determine the right direction for the state to take. Possessing capital and having muscle have the same weight. Neoliberalism is leading to widening social gaps, inter-class conflicts and, ultimately, unavoidable revolution.
What is your comment on the national social security system?
Indonesia is on the right path with its planned national social security system. But the problem is that the people are skeptical about a government that appears less serious about implementing it in January 2014; plus the fact that it will only cover workers in the formal sector, while the majority of people work in the informal sector. The government has to review the employment system and regional minimum wage levels to enable workers to pay their premiums for the social security programs, and to allow the country to move toward becoming an industrial rather than agrarian country.
What can Indonesia learn from Germany's social security program?
The German system is somewhat different to Indonesia's and it cannot be compared to other countries. The fundamental thing is that the government must be reliable and show its political will to implementing the program nationwide.
Second, the government has to maximize the collection of taxes to support the program's financing, and the rich should be required to pay higher taxes than the poor. Indonesia is a wealthy country and it should have no problem financing the social security program because it is rich in natural resources. The problem lies in the fact that the government is not managing those resources well enough to improve people's social welfare.
Indonesia has to sell its natural resources at the highest price because they are non-renewable. For instance, the government must review the contract of work (CoW) with PT Freeport McMoran Indonesia to ensure that the copper and gold miner is not paying too little.
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