Indonesians stage nationwide strike over pay

JAKARTA - Workers across Indonesia begin a two-day strike Thursday to demand higher salaries, the latest industrial action in Southeast Asia's top economy as people push for a greater share of the profits from stellar growth.

Calls have been growing in recent months for a hike in the minimum wage as the cost of living skyrockets due to high inflation.

Unions estimate that almost three million workers will take part in the action, although the numbers have come in lower than such forecasts in previous nationwide strikes.

"Living costs are going up," Said Iqbal, chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union (KSPI), told AFP.

"Many workers who could not afford their rents have had to move out of their homes and live under bridges and in sewers. They are eating instant noodles instead of rice."

Workers say they have been particularly hard-hit by a rise in the price of subsidised fuel in June, with petrol going up by 44 per cent and diesel by 22 per cent.

They are demanding "just a decent pay raise to compensate for inflation", said Iqbal, adding: "We labourers have contributed so much to the economy, why are we trampled upon?".

Unions said employees from industries ranging from textiles to mining in around 20 of the country's 34 provinces will participate in the action.

Around 300,000 workers will strike in the capital Jakarta while some 400,000 will walk out in the neighbouring industrial hub of Bekasi, the KSPI predicted.

Strikes and protests by Indonesian workers have been on the rise as they demand higher wages in line with a booming economy which has clocked up an average annual growth of above six per cent in recent years.

While growth has slowed in the last few months and the economy has been hit by fears the US may reduce its stimulus programme, Indonesia is still expanding faster than most developed economies.

Workers in Jakarta this year received a 44 per cent increase in the minimum wage to 2.2 million rupiah ($200) a month, and others across the country also got hefty hikes.

Iqbal said the KSPI was calling for the minimum wage in Jakarta to be raised to 3.7 million rupiah.

Workers are piling pressure on local governments as they prepare to decide on wage increases for next year in the coming weeks.

However employers have expressed concerns that huge salary hikes are denting profits and could lead foreign investors to take their business to neighbouring Asian countries.

Nevertheless, Indonesian factory workers remain some of the lowest-paid in Asia, often earning less than their counterparts in China or India.