In Indonesia, the Solidarity Center works with its partners to build strong unions, support advocacy campaigns, improve workers’ access to legal representation, and empower women workers.
|Participants in an Economics for All workshop perform a role-playing exercise.
A former Dutch colony and now the world’s third largest democracy, Indonesia is an archipelago made up of more than 17,000 islands in the middle of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It covers some 741,000 square miles, slightly less than three times the size of Texas. Of a population of more than 240 million, iit has a workforce of 112 million. Its major industries are petroleum and natural gas, textiles, apparel, and mining; major agricultural products include palm oil, rice, tea, coffee, spices, and rubber. Hundreds of thousands of workers, the vast majority of them young women, are employed in export processing zones.
The Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation during World War II ended centuries of Dutch rule begun in the 17th century and encouraged a dormant Indonesian independence movement. Two days after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Indonesia declared independence. The newly appointed president, Sukarno, became more and more authoritarian, maintaining his power base by wiping out the opposition. In 1965, between 500,000 and 1 million Indonesians were killed after a failed coup destroyed the Communist Party. In 1968 his own military forces ousted the politically weakened Sukarno, and he was succeeded by General Suharto.
Under three decades of Suharto’s “New Order,” Indonesia’s economy grew and thrived, but the regime was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition. In 1997 and 1998, Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the Asian financial crisis, and the economy collapsed, sending millions into poverty. Popular discontent led to massive protests and Suharto’s resignation in May 1998. In 1999, the first democratic elections were held. In 2004, Indonesia held its first presidential election. Although Indonesia’s democratic processes are stronger under the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, political and economic instability, social unrest, corruption, and terrorism have slowed progress.
After decades of repression, Indonesia’s independent unions are still in their infancy and face enormous challenges in the areas of organizing, governance, and mastering a new national labor court system. The heavy use of temporary contract labor in EPZs, for example, makes it difficult for EPZ workers to form and join unions. Many widespread employment practices in EPZs violate both Indonesian law and core labor standards, and thousands of workers toil in substandard conditions for poverty-level wages. Time will tell whether Indonesia is growing into a mature democracy or whether the past five years have been simply a lull before further turmoil unleashed by the global economic crisis.
Indonesia: Workers Set for Second Nationwide Strike
. November 4, 2013—Indonesian workers are planning a second round of nationwide protests for better wages, likely beginning November 6, according to the Jakarta Labor Forum.
Indonesian Unions Conduct Two-Day National Strike.
October 31, 2013--Hundreds of thousands of Indonesian workers started a two-day national strike today demanding the government institute a fair minimum wage, end rampant employer violations of labor outsourcing and speed up implementation of a universal health care law.
Indonesia: Worker Solidarity Gets Results.
November 2, 2012—A strike by 2 million blue-collar Indonesian workers over wages and job outsourcing resulted in government promises to improve worker pay and restrict the use of workers subcontracted through labor agencies. The one-day walkout in October halted work on more than 80 industrial “estates” (sites) mainly throughout Java and the island of Batam, across from Singapore.
Indonesian Workers Can Defy Challenges to Unionize.
May 24, 2012—Although Indonesia's economy is growing and poverty decreasing, the average worker is not reaping the benefits of a booming economy, according to Jamie Davis, Solidarity Center country program director in Jakarta. At a well-attended brown-bag discussion at the AFL-CIO last week, Davis discussed the progress of Indonesian workers since the end of the oppressive Suharto dictatorship in 1998 and their opportunities for forming unions. The door to the middle class is not opening for the majority of workers in the formal sector, most of whom only receive minimum wage—which all policymakers agree is not a living wage.
Visiting Asian Labor Leaders Promote Global Solidarity and Job Security.
In November 2010, leaders from the three chapters of the Asian Labor Network on International Financial Institutions (ALNI) traveled to the United States as part of a Solidarity Center exchange program. They met with representatives of the most important international financial institutions. Solidarity Center intern Cassady Fendlay sat down with the group to learn more about their visit, their priorities, and their observations on labor solidarity.
RI Workers Condemn Union `Oppression' in Iran. Article from May 21, 2010, Jakarta Post quotes Indonesian Seafarers' Association Chairman Hanafi Rustandi: "As a predominantly Muslim country, Indonesia should intensify its diplomatic approach to pressurize the Iranian government to release unionists sent to jail without any trial before the court."
Solidarity Center Partner in Indonesia Urges Release of Iranian Unionist. Hanafi Rustandi, president of the Indonesian Seafarers' Union, has persistently supported the International Transport Federation’s campaign to gain an Iranian union leader's release from solitary confinement. In a letter addressed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rustandi denounces the government of Iran’s treatment of Mansour Osanloo, president of the Tehran Bus Workers’ Union, and countless other activists imprisoned in Iran.
Resolution of Dispute at Toshiba Indonesia Only a Partial Win for Workers. After four months of struggle and weeks of intense negotiations, workers and management at Toshiba Consumer Products Indonesia reached a settlement: 682 workers will be reinstated, but 15 local union leaders will not get their jobs back.
Strike Fund Established for Toshiba Workers in Indonesia. The International Metalworkers’ Federation has created a strike fund for more than 700 members of its Indonesian affiliate, the Federasi Serikat Pekerja Metal Indonesia, who went on strike after their employer, PT Toshiba Consumer Products Indonesia, refused to recognize their signed collective bargaining agreement.
On May 1, A Call for Domestic Worker Rights. On May 1, 2009, the Solidarity Center adds its voice to the global call for an international convention on domestic worker rights.
Promoting International Solidarity. Indonesian labor hero Hanafi Rustandi, whose courageous actions helped secure vital medical attention for imprisoned Iranian bus drivers union president Mansoor Osanloo, recently visited the United States for a round of networking and to promote international solidarity within the transport sector.
Indonesian Labor Leader Branded a Criminal for Peaceful May Day March. Sarta bin Sarim, leader of a plant-level union of the Indonesian Construction, Informal and General Workers Union, FKUI-SBSI, was sentenced on July 30, 2007, to three months in prison for participating in a peaceful May Day march. He had been held in detention since his arrest.
Missing the Point of Labor Day. Written by the Solidarity Center Indonesia Field Representative, this opinion piece was published in the Jakarta Post in May 2007, calling on the Indonesian government to honor worker rights.
Rebuilding Lives and Unions After the Indonesia Earthquake. In May 2006, a devastating earthquake hit the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, killing nearly 6,000 people, injuring more than 36,000, and leaving 1.5 million homeless. Through contributions from U.S. union members and AFL-CIO affiliates, the Solidarity Center is working with three Indonesian unions to rebuild the lives of workers and their unions in the Yogyakarta region.
Qatar and United Arab Emirates Present Challenging Environment for Migrant Workers. In September 2006, Heba El-Shazli, the Solidarity Center’s Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, traveled to the Gulf region with Regional Country Program Director Laurie Clements and Regional Program Officer Dan Cork, to investigate migrant worker rights conditions in Qatar and Dubai.
Media and Popular Culture Spread Anti-Trafficking Message in Indonesia. With support from the Solidarity Center and its longtime partner the International Catholic Migration Commission, in 2006 the Farmers Voice Radio Network hosted a three-day Anti-Trafficking Jamboree in Subang, West Java.
Empowering Workers and Their Children to Fight Human Trafficking in Indonesia. More than 25,000 Boy and Girl Scouts are learning how to stay safe in a part of Indonesia that is infamous for the cruel practice of human trafficking. The effort, which is supported by the Solidarity Center, is highlighted as an international best practice in the U.S. State Department 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Solidarity Center Publications
- When They Were Sold (2006). Designed as a companion to Trafficking of Women and Children in Indonesia, this comprehensive report closely examines human trafficking patterns across nearly half of Indonesia’s 33 provinces.
- Trafficking of Women and Children in Indonesia (2003). This 300-page report was published as part of a joint Solidarity Center/International Catholic Migration Committee counter-trafficking campaign in Indonesia.
- Economics in Indonesia: What Every Worker Needs to Know (2001). This training manual, developed in partnership with leaders of seven Indonesian unions, is intended to help demystify complex economic issues for rank and file union members.