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Jakarta Post

Editorial: Workers'€™ demands

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Wed, October 30, 2013   /  09:05 am

Try to avoid main roads this week, as rallies and strikes will continue until the deadline of Nov. 1 for the decision on provincial minimum wages. Workers are repeating their demands for higher wages, health coverage and the end of outsourcing. They demand that all citizens'€™ health costs are covered by next year, including workers, instead of the plan to roll it out in stages.

Neutral observers fervently hope for a compromise, while workers press on, testing their strength. After all, a few provincial decisions on wages were changed last year in the face of massive strikes. Workers sense that they have clout, even while critics cite '€œunrealistic'€ demands, such as a 50 percent wage increase and demands that universal health coverage be applied to all Indonesians in the New Year.

The last demand relates to the 2011 Social Security Providers (BPJS) Law, which will first prioritize barely 100 million poorest citizens. Workers should be covered starting in 2015 and employers remain uncertain as to whether they should pay 4 or 5 percent of each worker'€™s monthly wages in premiums.

As the necessary government regulations have not yet been issued the government needs to thoroughly explain preparations for the universal health coverage to the public, including employers and workers '€” who have rejected even a deduction of 0.5 percent from their wages as their contribution in premiums, saying wages are already too low.

Instead, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono launched an awareness campaign on Oct. 21 on the need to own health coverage '€” an irrelevant measure to millions waiting for promises to be fulfilled.

The congestion and occasional anarchy caused by strikes masks the reality '€” that workers live in virtual poverty even while the minimum wage is described as a '€œdecent standard of living'€. '€œRenting a small space [of 9 square meters] with several others, with no ventilation in a squalid area is not decent,'€ Jumisih, a union leader from North Jakarta'€™s industrial area said last week. As a corrective measure to earlier increases which were considered too low Jakarta'€™s monthly minimum wage was raised last year by 44 percent to almost Rp 2 million (US$180); thus the next rise is expected to only reach Rp 2.3 million.

But workers say they must spend well over Rp 500,000 alone on monthly rent, with little left for food and transportation. And for many, falling ill means cuts in allowances and failure to send money to parents in their home villages for the care of their children. Furthermore, workers are already paying the compulsory social security premiums and will likely continue to do so even though their health costs will not actually be covered next year.

Authorities should at least step up supervision of factory conditions while the government rushes through the health coverage preparations. Employers complain of workers'€™ low productivity. But 12-hour work shifts without being paid overtime is common; likewise the change of workers'€™ status from regular employees to casual, cheaper staff. As a member of the G-20, surely Indonesia owes more to its workers.

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