The Jakarta Post
One signal of Indonesia's industrial relations dynamics over the last few years is the high intensity of workers actions.
In Jakarta alone the local police recorded no less than 1,050 workers actions in 2012 with consistent demands: wage increase and improvement of working conditions.
Worker demonstrations also show a pattern in terms of timing ' May Day and the last quarter of the year (during negotiations for the annual minimum wage increase). Since 2010, besides demands on wage increase and welfare, worker demonstrations have also demanded the implementation of universal social security.
The increasing intensity of worker demonstrations has gained a largely unsympathetic reaction since rallies create traffic congestion and are considered a reflection of Indonesian workers' mentality ' those who can only make demands, or hanya bisa menuntut.
It is also feared the protests will drive away investment, decreasing Indonesia's competitiveness.
However, recent workers actions show at least two things. First, higher education among workers, particularly in Java; many also enroll in higher education while working and are exposed to technology.
Several union leaders in Bekasi, West Java, have degrees in engineering and economics. Others in Tangerang, Banten and Cimahi in West Java are also studying law.
Second, the failure of the government and some employers in dealing properly with these more qualified workers. From the series of worker demonstrations in the last five years, one can see that the actions are carried out in a highly organized and consolidated manner with very clear and consistent demands and targets. The actions are also performed in accordance with law, i.e. by earlier notifying the authority or police.
Their demands are supported by clear argument and strong data. Demands for wage increase are supported by the decent living needs adjusted to economic growth as well as reference to other countries equal to Indonesia's situation like the Philippines and Thailand.
Workers' demand to ban outsourcing is also supported by the data on the widespread exploitative and degrading practices. When workers demand social security they refer to both the Constitution and the law on social security. All these show that workers' demands are not irrational but have solid grounding.
This state of affairs should be understood in a more positive context: Indonesian workers are getting more aware of their rights and also have more capability to see problems in a comprehensive and
They are also trying to enable the government to seriously play its role and obligation to citizens.
Rational and knowledgeable workers should be an equal partner for the government as well as employers since they will make negotiations easier with prepared arguments and data.
In modern companies such quality workers are used to build productive industrial relations where bipartite negotiations can be executed in an equal stance as well as in good faith. Problems arise when government and employers fail or neglect this quality and deal with workers in a traditional approach, which considers workers less knowledgeable and inferior and thus have only to do as they are told.
When workers are able to utilize data as the base of the demands, they expect the same thing from the government and employers.
However, still too often the claims and objections of the employers on workers' demands are not supported by strong evidence. Employers' claim that worker demonstrations has scared investment away is not supported with specific information such as how much has gone.
Instead, Coordinating Investment Agency (BKPM) data says that 'the realization of investment projects in Q3 [July-September] in 2013 amounted to Rp 100.5 trillion [US$9.13 billion], which for the first time exceeded the threshold of Rp 100 trillion. That means an increase of 22.9 percent compared with the achievements in the same period in 2012 [Rp 81.8 trillion]' (bkpm.go.id).
New investments flowing in and official delegations from various countries from Asia and Europe are, thus, seeking opportunities in Indonesia.
In objecting to demands of wage increase employers cite workers' low productivity; but workers
say they do not know how productivity is counted or what factors influence workers' as well as company's productivity.
Another issue that has much to do with worker demonstrations is the problem of transparency. Some employers are not transparent on the real company's situation.
This attitude is a hurdle for the negotiation process since there is no sufficient data and information as the base for negotiation. This situation has indeed caused widespread deadlock in negotiations, and have ignited workers' action.
There are cases where the management refuses to negotiate with various excuses that forces workers to take the last resort: go on strike or take action. Often the public does not know that workers' action is a result of deadlock or non-existence of the negotiation process.
Central to comprehend the action is that workers do not want to make the company bankrupt since their lives rely on the companies. Workers also do not want to make the country go bankrupt by frightening investment that is much needed for the economy.
All workers want is a fair share in economic growth and to taste their country's international economic achievement. What workers want is the government's capability to play its role as best as possible, as regulator and facilitator so that the sweet fruit of growth can be shared with all.
The writer is a labor researcher at AKATIGA, the Center for Social Analysis in Bandung.
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