INDONESIA - An estimated 7,000 workers from the city and surrounding areas staged a mass rally, demanding the government significantly raise the provincial minimum wages and retract a recent presidential instruction, which set the ceiling of wage increases to 10 per cent.
The demonstrators, mostly members of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers' Union (KSPI), marched from the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle to the National Monument (Monas), causing traffic to back up along Jl. Thamrin, Jl. Sudirman and the streets around Monas Square for hours.
They also besieged the Presidential Palace but to no avail as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is out of the country on a visit to Poland and Russia.
However, the labour rally was not sullied by violence as the police deployed 11,000 personnel - including those from the Jakarta Military Command - to maintain security and order as well as to help ease the traffic congestion.
Jakarta Police operational division head Sr. Comr. M. Chairul lauded the peaceful rally and said demonstrators complied with the police's instruction to disperse at 6 p.m.
A large group of protesters, mostly wearing black shirts coupled with red headbands, marched with a large banner that read: "1 Januari 2014, jaminan kesehatan national harus dijalankan tanpa syarat di bawah BPJS. Tolak upah murah. Jangan berbohong pada rakyat and tolak politisasi jamsos" (the national healthcare programme must be implemented without any reserves as of Jan. 1, 2014. We reject the cheap wage policy. Do not lie to the people and do not politicize social security programs).
Nurdin, a unionist speaking from the back of a truck, called on the government to show its commitment to the nationwide implementation of the national social security programme from January 2014 to help protect workers, especially those in labour intensive industry and the informal sector.
"If the national healthcare is not implemented in January, all workers will stage a national strike," he said.
He also said that workers rejected the newly-issued Presidential Instruction on wage-hike ceiling, which was considered to be against the 2003 Labor Law and the 2004 Regional Autonomy Law.
The Labor Law stipulated that the wage hike would be set by the provincial tripartite wage committee, after the completion of a provincial index price survey. Once the provincial wage committee proposed a wage hike to the provincial government, governors are given the final say as it is deemed to be related to labour matters, which are decentralized.
Similar to earlier in the year, workers and labour unions demanded a significant wage hike in response to the government's decision to cut the fuel subsidy, the soaring price of basic commodities and the planned implementation of the national healthcare programme.
The Indonesian Employers' Association (Apindo), believed to be behind the presidential instruction, threatened further downsizing if regional heads, especially those in provinces with industrial estates, raised their provincial minimum wages by more than 10 per cent.
Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo played down the workers' demands, saying workers should be more rational with their demands, especially in the current economic environment.
However, he did say his administration would conduct a survey on wage components in the city before it made a decision regarding wage increases in January 2014.
The governor raised the minimum wage by 48 per cent to Rp 2.2 million (S$264) from Rp 1.5 million in 2012. Workers now demand that the minimum wage for 2014 be raised by 68 per cent to Rp 3.7 million.