HUNDREDS of Uber drivers have been on strike in Indonesia in a dispute over what they describe as ‘modern slavery’ practices by the firm.
Around 200 drivers rallied in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last Sunday, 20 August.
And there were solidarity actions in other cities, including Bogor and Surabaya, while drivers who were far away from the management offices turned off their apps in solidarity.
Following on from two protests in May, last Sunday’s stop-work protests were the third day of actions in an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions. The drivers believe they face the same main grievances that have led to protest action in cities from New York to Melbourne to Lagos – Uber unilaterally determining basic pay rates and the lack of clarity of the drivers’ employment status.
The drivers issued a list of 14 demands, including a basic rate of 2,500 Rupiah (£0.15/$0.19) per km, an end to high commissions and fees taken by the company, and the provision of office administration and safety support. Low pay has a severe effect on the drivers, who are unable to maintain their vehicles and sometimes struggle to afford fuel.
One driver said that after doing a 24 hour shift working from one morning to the next he had only earned Rp 130,000 (£7.60/$10). Most drivers eat only once a day and sometimes lose money during a shift after Uber take 10% of their fare combined with fines for cancellations. Due to low rates, Uber is a side job for some drivers. Others are moving to competing companies who are paying rates that are 50-100% higher, and often guaranteeing that drivers will not lose money. With Uber, responsibility is on the driver.
Another common problem for drivers are the promotional rates of up to 100% which Uber forces them to offer. A delegation of ten drivers have met with management, but were denied access for their legal advisor. Uber management also confiscated phones and prohibited recordings of the talks. Management have so far met only one of the drivers’ 14 demands. The drivers, who use a system of recallable delegates, held a mass meeting last Tuesday to discuss the concession and next steps in the dispute.
They are suspicious of management promises and are planning further industrial action should Uber not accede to their demands within two weeks. They have organised themselves into the KUMAN drivers collective, which has received support in building their organisation from the anarcho-syndicalist PPAS (Persaudaraan Pekerja Anarko-Sindikalis), as well as legal advice from LBH Jakarta.
Grassroots union activists from PPAS in Jakarta have called for international solidarity actions at Uber offices, and a day of international solidarity has been called for 9th September.
• Clashes broke out last Saturday at Freeport’s Grasberg mine in West Papua, Indonesia, after striking workers blockaded the mine. Hundreds of striking mineworkers blockaded entrances to the mine from 14:00 local time on Saturday 19 August in an attempt to stop production and force the company to negotiate with them.
During clashes with police and security guards, several miners were injured with rubber bullets, and office buildings and a number of vehicles were set alight. Police and security guards regained control at about 23:00.
The local police chief stated that the army would be deployed to maintain order. The blockade was carried out by both direct employees and contractors, and was not organised or endorsed by the union.
The workers are in a desperate situation, after being fired for taking strike action. The escalation comes as the crisis at the mine deepens. In a case that is still under investigation, shots were fired at a company vehicle last week, injuring the driver. Workers at Grasberg mine have been on strike since 1st May this year.
The mine is owned by PT Freeport, the local subsidiary of US mining company Freeport McMoRan. The company has so far fired 4,200 striking workers. IndustriALL Global Union has warned for months of the possibility of serious conflict. In a statement issued in May, mining director Glen Mpufane said: ‘The situation is very tense. We need to intervene urgently to prevent another Marikana.’
The current crisis adds pressure to an already volatile situation. The Grasberg mine is controversial for a number of reasons, and the sovereignty of West Papua is contested, sometimes violently. In the past, Freeport has used the Indonesian army to provide security, and a number of people have been killed in clashes.
A recent solidarity mission to Indonesia by IndustriALL found a social crisis at the mine. Workers and their families have been without income, access to credit, accommodation, education or medical care for four months, and several people are believed to have died as a result. To make the situation worse, severe flooding two weeks ago meant several areas had to be evacuated.
The strike is the result of a dispute between Freeport and the Indonesian government over control of the mine. The Indonesian government wants a 51 per cent stake, and cancelled Freeport’s export permits when the company refused. In response, Freeport slowed production and began laying off workers, triggering the strike.
Indonesian media reports that Freeport has now signed a new contract with the government. On Friday 18 August, before the recent clashes, IndustriALL wrote to the director general of the ILO, Guy Ryder, urging the ILO to urgently intervene in the crisis.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: ‘IndustriALL has warned for months now of the possibility of violence. Workers at Grasberg are in an absolutely desperate situation. Despite our repeated warnings, Freeport has escalated the situation at every turn. IndustriALL finds it despicable that Freeport plays games with people’s lives and livelihoods, to score political points in their dispute with the Indonesian government. The situation has to end now. All parties need to get around the table and immediately resolve this crisis.’