TNI-police MoU is a tool to clobber labour strikes

Source – February 13, 2018
Sherr Rinn speaks at IWD rally in Jakarta - March 8, 2018 (Rukhiyatul Umami)
Sherr Rinn speaks at IWD rally in Jakarta - March 8, 2018 (Rukhiyatul Umami)

Sherr Rinn – The National Police (Polri) and the Indonesian military (TNI) have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which Polri can request assistance from the TNI to secure protest actions and labour strikes.

According to Law Number 34/2004 on the TNI, the use of the TNI’s forces to confront military and armed threats is under the authority of the president and must have prior agreement from the House of Representatives (DPR). In other words, this MoU is legally flawed.

The new MoU will only strengthen militaristic tendencies which are already deeply rooted in state institutions. Not to mention the political elite’s dependency on the military. So it is not surprising if on occasion soldiers return to the civilian domain.

I do not believe that the MoU was formulated purely based on the initiative of Polri and the TNI. Even before the agreement, the military has often been deployed in industrial disputes.

In October last year our trade union, the Populist Democratic Trade Union (SEDAR), was advocating for the rights of contract workers at an automatic components factory in the MM2100 industrial area of Cibitung in Bekasi, West Java. The company responded to a rally demanding the reinstatement of sacked contract workers by bringing uniformed troops onto the factory grounds.

These “rouge” soldiers receive a kickback from labour outsourcing suppliers at the factory. If companies can employ contract and outsourced workers without restrictions, contract labour and outsourcing suppliers also stand to profit. Companies get security and flexible labour and the rogue soldiers get a share of the business profits. Workers meanwhile simply become cash cows.

Our trade union protested this using Article 39 of the TNI law which prohibits soldiers from being active in business. The military officer concerned justified the intervention on the grounds that the outsourcing foundation they were running was owned by his wife.

The presence of troops was very tangible during the 2012 labour strikes in Bekasi. During a labour rally at the company PT. Patria in the Jababeka 2 area of Cikarang, it was not just police that were deployed but the military as well.

Labour strikes are seen as threatening public order. Yet the escalation in strikes at that time was actually caused by the weakness of labour law enforcement institutions. In the end workers took matters into their own hands by going on strike and besieging the factories concerned.

On August 21, 2014, the Ministry for Industry and Industry (Menperin) issued Ministerial Decree Number 466/M-IND/Kep/8/2014 which designated 63 companies and industrial zones as vital national assets. Presidential Decree Number 63/2004 on Securing Vital Objects allows for Polri to request assistance from the TNI to protect vital national assets.

Law Number 9/1998 on the Freedom of Expression in Public exempts demonstrations in areas designated as national vital assets. It is this that that was used as grounds to arrest two PT. Tempo Scan Pacific workers during a rally against union busting in front of the East Jakarta Industrial Park (EJIP) in Cikarang on May 29, 2015. Based on the ministerial decree, the EJIP was included as a vital national asset.

Another factory in the EJIP brought in the marines as security during the 2012 “strike season” and has maintained them ever since.

From the examples above, it is clear that the function of the Menperin decree is simply to justify companies deploying the military in industrial disputes.

And as if it isn’t enough to secure private factories on the grounds that they are vital objects and restrict the right of workers to protest, the state intensified its attacks on workers’ rights and welfare with the enactment of Government Regulation Number 78/2015 on Wages (PP 78/2015).

This regulation allows the government to set annual wage rises based on inflation and productivity. It effectively abolishes the function of wage councils whose membership is made up of representatives from the government, employers and trade unions.

Prior to this, wage councils could negotiate agreements on nominal wage rises. But now, all it requires is a name on a piece of paper. Negotiations can still take place but in the end they must adhere to the increase already set by the government.

Massive workers actions demanding the cancelation of the PP 78/2015 have been held over the last two years but to no avail. The regulation has remained in force and for three years in a row has been used as a basis for determining annual wage rises.

Workers’ lives would be far better if the government improved the monitoring of labour laws. Legal guarantees allowing trade unions to see the financial books of companies should also be provided.

In this way trade unions could ask for wage increases and other demands with a clear basis and to the benefit of workers. What happens at the moment however is that workers demand wage rises based on the reasonable living cost index (KHL), but these wages are only enough to cover the most basic living costs.

Through the PP 78/2015 the government has been able to hold down wages and removed the role of trade unions in determining the minimum wage. This has been completely taken over by the government which sets wage increases based on the inflation rate as determined by National Statistics Agency (BPS). The result is that annual wage increases have only been around 8-11 percent.

Prior to the PP 78/2015, workers were able to fight for annual wage increases of between 15-30 percent and in 2013 even won a 40 percent rise. This was achieved by mass mobilisations and by trade unions using their political bargaining power against regional heads, particularly in the lead up to regional elections (pilkada).

Increases in workers’ income are largely a result of increases in the minimum wage which in turn improves workers’ welfare, particularly for permanent employees.

And unlike other labour regulations such as those covering employment status, which are often violated by employers, annual wage increases are almost never violated because of the threat of criminal sanctions.

Minimum wage increases also jack up basic and overtime wages. Although overtime results in workers working for more hours and reduces the quality of workers’ lives, they increase a worker’s income by as much as 70 percent and are essential to cover rising living costs and debt repayments.

Now, it has become even harder to obtain a decent wage rise. The government is promoting wage increase through bipartite institutions, namely negotiations between trade unions and employers. Sectoral wage increases are determined through negotiations between trade unions and employer associations in accordance with the specific sector.

Bipartite institutions negotiate structure and wage scales and only small wage rises can ever be won through bipartite negotiations. In our experience in working with trade unions at the factory level, bipartite negotiations only result in wage increases of around US$5-10 rupiah a month.

I’m not allergic to bipartite negotiations as such. In wage negotiations, trade unions demand increases based on company profits. Company profits are analysed and membership strength consolidated. A strike is the final option if negotiations reach a dead end.

The 2003 labour law only recognises labour strikes that are legitimate, orderly and peaceful and strikes that are deemed illegitimate can have fatal consequences. In such strikes workers are deemed to be absent from work and to have resigned so they have no right to compensation or severance pay.

In order for a strike to be legitimate workers must inform the company and the Labour Office seven days beforehand and only after negotiations have broken down and both sides have declared that negotiations have reached a dead end. During a strike, the Labour Office encourages the two sides to enter negotiations again in order to reach a joint agreement.

The 2003 labour law does not oblige workers to report a planned strike to police. Based on National Police Regulation Number 1/2005, the police can be deployed to secure a strike if requested. The request can be made by the Labour Office, employers or trade unions. Only when there is a real threat can police be deployed without a prior request.

The police’s role is limited to ensuring that a strike proceeds peacefully and must be done from a minimum distance of 25 metres. Police are not allowed to side with either party in an industrial dispute and are also prohibited from being involved in negotiations.

So a legitimate strike that proceeds in an orderly and peaceful manner almost never requires a police presence, never mind the military. If in the future widespread strikes are chosen as the method to demand decent wages and labour negotiations in the workplace, it will be the governments own policies that are to blame.

The PP 78/2015 means that workers must strengthen their bargaining position in the factory in order to be able to confront employers in bipartite negotiations. This will be a slow process and the leadership of conservative trade unions who are subordinated to the interest of employers must be replaced.

And at the same time these flexible labour systems that benefit employers also contain the seeds of radicalisation. It has quickly given birth to a new generation of more progressive young workers to replace the older generation. This was demonstrated in the militant strikes against outsourcing in 2012 which were dominated by a new generation of young workers.

Wages are the final defense for workers’ to improve their standard of living. If the majority of workers up until now have been prepared to compromise on employment status, this is not the case with wages. Restrictions on wage rises and the bipartite resolution of industrial disputes will result in a new labour radicalisation. Sooner or later a way will be found to build larger and more militant strikes and labour actions.

The state’s position is clear: confront this with the combined force of the police and military.

Sherr Rinn is the spokesperson for the Populist Democratic Trade Union (SEDAR).

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was Nota Kesepahaman TNI-POLRI, Alat Gebuk Pemogokan Buruh.]