Thousands rally across Indonesia on May Day


Jakarta – May Day was commemorated across Indonesia by thousands of workers, students, women activists and NGOs. Despite large turnouts in most cities, this year’s demands were less militant, with a major focus on the Social Insurance Management Agency (BPJS) law being deliberated by the House of Representatives (DPR). Contract labour and outsourcing, union-bashing and wage increases amid tougher working conditions and spiralling living costs were major themes.

In Indonesia’s northern-most province of Aceh, scores of mass media workers demonstrated in the capital, Banda Aceh, condemning attacks on journalists and demanding better safety guarantees and welfare. Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) chairperson Mukhtaruddin Yakob said violence is a major problem. The AJI recorded 66 cases of violence against journalists in 2010, and the Committee to Protect Journalists lists Indonesia as a country where journalists are at risk.

Contract labour

In Bali, students groups and the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights marched through Denpasar saying that labour laws have marginalised workers by allowing the use of contract labour and outsourcing. They also condemned the government for failing to pay attention to migrant workers. Around 6 million Indonesians work overseas in menial jobs. Despite contributing around US$6 billion (compared with US$4 billion in foreign direct investment) in foreign exchange annually, they suffer widespread abuse and receive little or no protection from the government.

In Bandung, hundreds of students and workers from the People’s Struggle Front (FPR) protested at the West Java government offices, demanding welfare improvements for farm and plantation labourers, factory workers, the unemployed and students. “We have land, our land is stolen. We work hard and our wages are cut. Our young people have no jobs”, said one protester. They also lamented the lack of a National Social Security Program (SJSN) and called on the DPR to ratify the BPJS law immediately.

The provincial government was targeted by around 500 workers from the Indonesian Trade Union Congress Alliance (KASBI), who also held a theatrical action depicting the oppression of workers. They raised women workers’ rights, Enung Wiwin from KASBI saying that it is time for women workers to take the lead. While conceding that some gains have been made, Wiwin said that women at her factory have still not won the right to breastfeed at work.

In Boyolali, Central Java, hundreds of workers from the National Trade Union (SPN) held a motorbike rally around the city, ending at the local labour office, where they called for revisions to the laws on workers’ insurance and the settlement of industrial disputes, rejected contract labour and called for women workers’ rights.

Although the 2003 labour law requires companies to provide severance pay to permanent employees – which is critical for workers when there is no social security net – employers are circumventing this by exploiting a section in the law that allows contract labour and outsourcing, progressively replacing permanent workers with contract labour. Of the 33 million workers in the formal sector, only 35% are now permanent, a decline from 76% prior to the law coming into effect. The remaining 70% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, with little or no job security.


Jakarta had the largest mobilisations. Workers travelled to the capital from outlying industrial areas and the satellite cities of Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok. Most of the rallies centred on the State Palace in Central Jakarta, where thousands of workers from different organisations had gathered after marching from the nearby Hotel Indonesia traffic circle.

Prominent at the Jakarta protests was the Indonesian People’s United Resistance (PPRI), an alliance of around 30 trade unions, student, women activists and social and political organisations. Formed in March specifically for May Day, PPRI includes the leftist Political Union of the Poor, the left-wing trade union United Indonesian Labour Movement, KASBI sectoral unions, the Indonesian Transportation Trade Union of Struggle, the Indonesian Labour Forum of Struggle, the Association of Independent Trade Unions, the Indonesian Labour Union Confederation, the Association of Indonesian Plantation Entrepreneurs, the Awakening Trade Union, the Greater Jakarta Trade Union, Indonesian Trade Union Jakarta, sectoral unions belonging to the All-Indonesia Workers Union Federation, as well as AJI and youth organisations such as the Indonesian Youth Front for Struggle and the Indonesian Student Union.

In speeches and leaflets handed out at the rally, the PPRI said the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a capitalist regime that fails to bring prosperity to the ordinary people, particularly the working class. The PPRI raised three main demands: a 50% minimum wage rise; the abolition of contract labour and outsourcing; and social security and the full right to form trade unions.

Yudhoyono meanwhile – who for the last three years has stayed well away from the Palace on May 1 – spent the day visiting factories in Bogor, West Java, accompanied by former labour activist and People’s Democratic Party (PRD) leader Dita Indah Sari, who is now the spokesperson for labour and transmigration minister Muhaimin Iskandar. Sari was earlier criticised by union leaders for defending Iskandar after Labour Department officials were accused of giving 300 trade unionists 110,000 rupiah (US$13) and a hamper of food and cooking oil to stop them protesting on May Day.

Free trade agreement

Also in Jakarta, workers from the SPN protested at the DPR, demanding the cancellation of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), which they said is “paralysing the people’s economy in all sectors”. They also called for immediate ratification of the BPJS law and the eradication of the judicial mafia, particularly in relation to industrial relations.

The ACFTA, which came in to full effect last year, has resulted in a deluge of Chinese products into domestic markets, threatening local industries. According to a recent survey by the Ministry of Industry, the ACFTA has brought a sharp increase in raw material imports, a decrease in domestic product sales, a decline in producers’ profits and declining employment. The most affected industrial sectors were textiles, furniture, metals, machinery and electronics.

Protesters from the SPN and the Trade Union Association also rallied at the Department of Labour and Transmigration, where they rejected outsourcing and called for the ratification of the SJSN law.

A rally by the Indonesian People’s Opposition Front (FORI) clashed with police who prevented workers from entering the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Unable to break through the police blockade, protesters gave speeches at the airport entrance rejecting contract labour and outsourcing.

Provincial actionsIn the Lampung capital of Bandar Lampung, hundreds of workers and activists took to the streets on May 1. In the first of two actions, around 500 protesters from an NGO alliance called the Lampung People’s Struggle protested at a major shopping centre demanding more attention to workers’ welfare and labour rights, which they said were being “trampled on by the hegemony of power”. In another part of the city, the Bandar Lampung AJI called for safety guarantees and higher wages.

In the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, around 1000 protesters from FORI scuffled with police when they tried to force their way through a blockade and enter the Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport. The workers said that they had planned to occupy the airport because they were tired of demonstrating at the Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) and the governor’s office, where they were ignored. Another group of workers held an action at a Makassar industrial zone.

Around 150 people from the FPR demonstrated in Purwokerto, Central Java, and held a “sleep-in” in front of the city’s main square. In speeches, workers demanded reasonable wages, the abolition of contract labour, protection for migrant workers and the annulment of laws that “smack of neo-liberalism”.

Hundreds of people from the SPN and the PPRI marched through the Central Java capital of Semarang. One of the PPRI activists, Rendra, said that the government does not side with workers but with capitalists. “We are demanding three things: the nationalisation of state assets for the people’s welfare, building a people-based national industry and genuine agrarian reform.”

Two protests were held in the Central Java city of Solo. The first, led by students from the Surakarta (Solo) Muhammadiyah University and the Solo Solidarity Trade Union Federation, condemned the government and employers for failing to pay heed to workers, called for an end to outsourcing and for wage rises in line with the cost of living. A scuffle broke out when police tried to intervene in a theatrical action depicting workers “destroying the walls of capital”. Around 50 workers from the SPN rallied in the city centre, rejecting outsourcing and calling for a reasonable wage and labour law revisions.

In Sukabumi, West Java, hundreds of workers from the SPN were prevented from entering the grounds of the regional government office by police and military personnel. In addition to raising concerns over workers’ welfare and health care, the protesters also complained that employers were not allowing them time to perform ritual prayers.

May Day in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta was commemorated by several actions. The Yogyakarta AJI held a long-march from the DPRD building to the governor’s office. A second demonstration by the Yogyakarta Labour Alliance demanded the immediate ratification of the SJSN law and rejected contract labour.

A short distance away, the Kulonprogo branch of the Volunteers of Democracy in Struggle demonstrated against low wages and outsourcing. Hundreds of people from the Yogyakarta Solidarity Committee Federation of Indonesian Independent Workers also held a long march to the Yogyakarta DPRD rejecting low wages and outsourcing and calling for companies violating the 2003 labour law to be punished.

A protest in the city centre by the Carrefour Indonesia Trade Union and the KASBI blocked the entire road and unfurled red banners with demands such as “Reject outsourcing labour systems” and “Reject neoliberalism”. Students from the Yogyakarta Student Union also held a sit-in at the provincial government office.

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