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Indonesian Workers Stage Massive Protests

A recent two-day nationwide strike of Indonesian workers demanded an increase in wages, health insurance coverage and an end to violations of labor outsourcing laws and new legislation to protect workers’ rights.

Workers across the board — garment, textile, teachers, transport and other skilled, semi-skilled and non-skilled laborers — formed a coalition of  employees who participated in the protest.

Although some three million workers were expected to strike, less than 50,000 reportedly took part in the walk-offs and shutdowns.

Indonesian trade unions were a major force behind the strike, demanding a 50 percent increase in the minimum wage and the passage of new laws to protect workers.

Strikers also demanded revisions to the Indonesian law which permits the hiring of temporary workers for up to a year without benefits.

Earlier this year, an Indonesian court ruled that such practices were unconstitutional.

Also opposed was a proposal for workers to pay two percent of their wages to a health insurance plan.

Indonesia has become an attractive sourcing nation for outside contractors because of its low wages — less than China’s, which has increased in recent years.

While minimum wages in Indonesia vary from province to province and by sectors as well, the average is roughly $170 monthly in Jakarta, the nation’s capital.

With these low wages in mind, Said Iqbal, president of an Indonesian union affiliated with the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation, said, “Employers are exploiting the millions of vulnerable workers with low wages, insecure employment contract and lack of health insurance.”

A strike in 2012 proved somewhat effective, prompting an increase of 44 percent in the minimum wage paid in Jakarta.  Union officials, however, said that despite the increase it was still less than a decent wage.

As Indonesian labor unrest continues, employer associations fear that foreign investment will dry up and manufacturing will flee the country to more congenial locations. Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest economy.