Indonesians can now go on strike and still keep wages
But they can’t mass on streets, rules House.
THE Indonesian Parliament has passed a controversial labour Bill which allows workers to go on strike without fear of losing their salaries.
The Bill, which received the backing of all four parliamentary factions after weeks of intense deliberation, also states that workers are allowed to set up a labour union at their workplace without a majority consensus.
Manpower Minister Abdul Latief, in announcing the Bill’s provisions during a plenary session on Thursday, said that they were aimed primarily at “accommodating the aspirations of all levels of society”.
“If we compare this Bill with those in other countries, ours is much more progressive and more daring in providing for the rights of workers,” he said in an emotionally charged speech in Parliament where he broke down into tears occasionally.
Underscoring this point, he said that Indonesian labourers were allowed to go on strike if their basic rights were not met.
Employers could face a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to 50 million rupiahs (S$26,850) if they resorted to punitive measures against workers who strike.
Mr Latief said that firms would also have to continue paying these workers while they were on strike.
The original draft submitted by the government said workers should not be paid when they go on strike.
The government decided to include a bonus in connection with the Idul Fitri holiday among workers’ basic rights.
“It is a pitiful sight. Fasting workers stage a strike only to seek some extra money so they can celebrate the holiday with their families,” said Mr Latief.
“We hope this decision will put an end to the number of strikes.”
He qualified this provision, however, by stressing that strikes were only allowed inside the workplace. In this regard, he said that the Bill banned strikes and rallies on streets.
He said: “When strikes are conducted on streets, they can fall prey to manipulation and interference by certain parties.
“We want workers to solve problems with their management at their workplaces and through deliberation.”
He added that labourers also had to notify their employer and the government 72 hours before they went on strike.
Another important provision in the Bill is the right of workers to establish a trade union in their workplace.
The government had insisted earlier that such a union had to get support from a majority of workers – this was rejected by Parliament.
Those who prevented labourers from establishing a trade union faced a maximum of two years jail and a 200-million-rupiah fine.
Political observers said that the Bill, which now awaits President Suharto’s endorsement, is “an optimal achievement” to accommodate workers rights and put an end to labour agitation in the country which is on the rise.
They said that while the right to strike had been guaranteed nominally by law, until 1990 an informal ban ensured that strikes almost never occured.
For example, employees were obliged to pass through a series of arbitration tribunals and apply for permission from the Manpower Ministry before calling for a strike.
Convinced that the process was biased against them, many workers took their grievances directly to Parliament or the press while others joined illegal wildcat strikes.
Said one analyst from a Jakarta-based think-tank: “It is a paradox of sorts in a positive sense. The Bill aims to reduce strikes in the long-term by allowing them to take place with certain limitations.”
Other observers were not too optimistic.
They pointed, for example, to the requirement in the Bill for labour unions to register with the government – a move, they said, aimed at curtailing workers’ freedom to organise independently.
Noted Mr Umar Juoro of the Centre for Information and Development Studies: “There is no such thing as an independent movement in this country. That is wishful thinking.”
He added that questions still remained on implementing the Bill’s provisions if it became law. Of particular interest was the role of trade unions.
“It might be easier to set up trade unions but how much power will they have vis-a-vis management. That is the central issue,” he said.