Indonesia Manpower Bill: more repression

Lyn and Shawn (
Tue, 3 Jun 1997 21:14:06 pst


Date sent: Tue, 3 Jun 1997 17:42:48 -0700 (PDT) To: clr From: Mike Rhodes <> Subject: Indonesia Manpower Bill: more repression

Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights

Call for International Solidarity: Oppose the Manpower Bill in Indonesia!

[This is a slightly shortened version of an alert posted by the Asia Monitor Resource Center, based in Hong Kong. See contact information at end of alert. Advocates of globalization say that free trade inevitably leads to political freedom. The recent sham elections in Indonesia (last year, the government forcibly restructured the leadership of the main opposition political party) and the proposed Manpower Bill described below would seem to dispute that theory. The Manpower Bill gives further insight into repression in Indonesia, which remains Nike's most important producer of shoes.]

On June 16, 1997, the Indonesian Government will introduce the Manpower Bill to parliament and force its passage into law, thereby consolidating its repression of the labour movement. This proposed 'Law on Manpower' will give the Government extensive control over every aspect of industrial relations, with unlimited power to intervene in labour disputes, and direct control over trade unions in the workplace. The new law will severely restrict workers' organizing activities and reduce their collective bargaining power.

The Manpower Bill embodies all of the anti-worker legislation which prompted mass protests and strikes recently in South Korea and Australia. As members of the APEC free trade regime, the Governments of these countries have imposed a neoliberal agenda which combines free trade and freedom for international capital with strong state intervention to repress workers' movements and systematically destroy workers' collective rights. While labour standards in industrialized and newly industrializing countries are being driven down by global competition to attract transnational capital, countries such as Indonesia are driving standards even lower by institutionalizing its repressive labour practices in a new law which supposedly clarifies workers' "rights". The proposed law only clarifies workers' rights to the extent that it's clear they don't have any.

If the Manpower Bill is passed by parliament it will impose severe restrictions on the right to organize and freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. Without these fundamental rights the provisions in the Bill concerning wages and working hours cannot be monitored or enforced. The extent of this attack on workers' fundamental rights is demonstrated in the following aspects of the Manpower Bill:

(1) Restrictions on freedom of association and reinforcement of the system requiring unions to be registered with and approved by the Government (Article 34). This reinforces the Decree of the Minister of Manpower (No.PER01/MEN/1994) on the establishment of trade unions in workplaces, whereby all trade unions must register with the Ministry of Manpower and provide a list of names of trade union committee members. The Decree bans union pluralism in the workplace and states that trade unions must seek affiliation to the Government-controlled All Indonesia Workers' Union (SPSI).

(2) Severe restrictions on the right to strike, with unlimited power of Government intervention to end disputes. These restrictions include the requirement that workers seek permission from the Government at least 72 hours before strike action, and that the names of strike leaders must be submitted to the Government (Article 85).

(3) Article 83 bans sympathy strikes and strikes which are not directly related to the company concerned.

(4) Article 84 further undermines workers' right to strike by stating that: "Workers shall have no rights to wages during a strike."

(5) Strike action is restricted to the company grounds and any strike action taken outside is illegal. This effectively prevents workers from participating in protest marches or public demonstrations. At the same time, Article 88 allows employers to expel workers from the company grounds: "All employers have the right to start a lockout."

(6) Collective bargaining rights are not guaranteed.

(7) Collective agreements only need to contain references to the "rights and obligations" of employers and workers, and company rules and regulations. Agreements do not need to contain specific provisions on wages, working hours, or working conditions. Also, employers can replace collective agreements with "company regulations" when a union "no longer exists" in the workplace.

(8) Collective agreements must be negotiated "without any pressure", which means workers cannot petition the management or threaten industrial action to enforce their demands.

(9) There is inadequate protection against unfair dismissal. In addition, Article 78 fails to guarantee the right to compensation for dismissed workers by stating that dismissed workers should receive severance pay or service money or compensation, when in fact workers should be entitled to all of these.

(10) There is inadequate protection of the rights of women workers, child and youth labour, Indonesian workers for overseas employment, and foreigners. This problem also applies to the provisions on health and safety.

(11) Many of these "rights" open to arbitrary decisions by Ministry of Manpower officials.

(12) Several articles in Bill contain the qualification that regardless of the "rights" granted to workers, the Government has (and also the employer in fact, because the workers' problem is lack of bargaining power) the unlimited (and unchecked) power to interpret and determine the application of these provisions, example for Overtime (Article 96) and Rest Times (Article 97)

Consolidating State Repression

Throughout the Manpower Bill there are references to "Pancasila Industrial Relations", which subordinates all labour issues to the decisions of the Government over national interests, unity and order. Article 24 of the Manpower Bill reinforces authoritarian control over workers and trade unions by asserting that all activities must conform to "Pancasila Industrial Relations" which is "designed to promote harmonious, integrated and compatible industrial relations" whereby "all workers shall promote a sense of belonging to and awareness of maintaining and preserving the business." This aspect of the Manpower Bill will give the Government power to enforce an existing Decree issued by the Minister of Manpower in 1994 which states that: "The trade union at the enterprise level is characterized by the principles of Pancasila" and its role is "to ensure continued existence of the enterprise" and "increase the productivity of workers".

The Manpower Bill further diminishes workers' rights by expressly defining workers as a national resource and as goods to be used for national development, where "manpower development aims to regulate, supervise and control the activities pertaining to manpower." Whereas an employer is defined in the Manpower Bill as "a person", a worker is defined only as "manpower".

Finally, the Manpower Bill excludes workers' organizations, trade unions and other labour organizations not registered with and approved by the Ministry of Manpower from providing support to workers in strikes, labour disputes or collective bargaining negotiations. This will leave workers relatively powerless in the face of government officials and pro-government union officials whose interests are aligned with foreign and domestic capital.

Taking Action

In response to the threat this Bill poses to workers' fundamental rights and to the labour movement, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs and genuine workers' organizations launched a campaign in March of this year to express their opposition to the Bill. Their public criticism of the Bill and demands for significant revisions to include fundamental workers' rights has gained widespread support among workers and local communities. In the lead-up to the June parliamentary hearing of the Manpower Bill, close to a million workers will petition the Government and the House of Representatives to significantly revise the bill before it becomes law.

As part of this campaign, workers' organizations and labour NGOs in Indonesia are calling for international support. The first step in the international campaign to stop the Manpower Bill will involve collecting the names of trade unions, labour support groups, human rights organizations, NGOs, and other concerned organizations to petition the Indonesian Government and the House of Representatives. A statement signed by organizations from around the world will be submitted to the Indonesian parliament along with the petition by Indonesian workers and workers' organizations. This petition will not only exert international pressure on the Indonesian Government, but will also raise international awareness of the threat posed by the Manpower Bill.

Through this action we intend to demonstrate our solidarity for the Indonesian workers' struggle. To join this solidarity action please send the name of your organization and comments to APEC Labour Rights Monitor (ALARM) by email: or fax Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) in Hong Kong: (852) 2385 5319

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