Indonesian Unions Battle For Rights

Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers applauding a speaker at their joint conference with the News Line on Sunday
Locked-out Gate Gourmet workers applauding a speaker at their joint conference with the News Line on Sunday

‘Reinstate the union president and stop union-busting immediately!’, said the banner of Japanese trade union officials outside the Indonesian embassy in Tokyo on January 24.

Members and officers International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) of the Japanese affiliate Food Rengo, joined by IUF Japan Coordinating Council (IUF-JCC) General Secretary Tomoji Misato, were demonstrating in solidarity with the sugar workers federation FSPM TG and their struggle for trade union rights in Indonesia.

The demonstration followed the January 18 visit to the embassy by Akihiko Nagamatsu (head of Food Rengo’s Sugar Mill Section), Hiroyuki Nagashima (Food Rengo International Liaison) and Misato, who delivered a letter from Food Rengo calling on the Indonesian government to take swift action in response to repeated violations of trade union rights by private and public employers in the sugar sector.

The international campaign for trade union rights for Indonesia’s sugar workers continues, with more embassy and related actions planned while the IUF continues to explore additional means of pressuring the Indonesian government and employers.

IUF says: ‘The government of Indonesia has indicated to the IUF that it will not act to rectify union-busting by public and private employers in the sugar sector, who are acting in collusion with the Suharto-era yellow unions and government officials.

‘It has also directly indicated to the IUF that it does not consider public incitement to violence against IUF members in Indonesia to be cause for any action by the government – thus clearing the way for potential acts of violence to be committed with impunity.

‘International pressure on the government is urgently needed.

‘Since being founded as an independent federation of sugar plantation and mill workers in February 2005, the IUF-affiliated FSPM TG has faced constant harassment and repression.

In March 2005, FSPM TG President Daud Sukamto was suspended from his job at Gunung Madu Plantation in Central Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest sugar cane and mill complex.

Gunung Madu is 45 per cent owned by the Hong Kong-based Kuok Investment Group of billionaire Robert Kuok, with the remainder held by two companies controlled by the Suharto family and cronies.

In June 2005, Sukamto was officially sacked – with the blessing of local Manpower Ministry officials.

The provincial labour arbitration body, the P4D, ruled that his local union’s affiliation to the IUF, and his urging members to reject a management contract offer in January – constituted ‘gross misconduct’.

Within weeks of the federation’s launch, management and yellow-unions at the large state-owned (PTPN) plantation and mill complex Number 10 in Java, pressured all the local unions to resign their membership in the FSPM TG.

‘Mill workers at PTPN X have had to slowly reconstitute and reregister their locals as members of the federation, a long process which has prevented their ability to represent workers in collective bargaining negotiations.

‘The local Department of Manpower also attacked the federation’s legal status by challenging its February registration with the authorities.

‘On October 5, 2005, Indonesia’s Manpower Minister bowed to pressure from the yellow unions and management and informed FSPM TG General Secretary Legimin that the union would have to register again (a completely arbitrary and illegal proposition) in order to be legally recognised.

‘He also instructed the General Secretary to “withdraw immediately” the complaint against the government of Indonesia which the IUF has lodged in response to government complicity in union-busting!

‘The union agreed, on pragmatic grounds, to register a second time.

‘The government has so far refused to act to reverse Daud Sukamto’s illegal dismissal and rampant union-busting at PTPN X.

‘It now refuses to respond to escalating public threats against FSPM TG officers and Hemasari Dharmabumi, the IUF representative in Indonesia.

‘On September 27, 2005, an “All Indonesia Sugar Mills Unions Solidarity Forum”, claiming to represent all sugar mills in the state-owned PTPN system as well as privately owned mills (including the Gunung Madu plantation and mill complex, Indonesia’s largest, whose management in March fired newly-elected FSPM TG President Daud Sukamto), issued a “statement of position”.

‘The statement condemned the IUF for “provocative and dishonest” actions in “hijacking the cadres of other trade unions”, “discrediting the Government of Indonesia and Trade Unions in Indonesia via the internet” and “strongly reminding IUF not to interfere in internal trade union business in Indonesia”.

‘This letter was signed by the Chairpersons of SP BUN unions at PTPN VII, IX, X, and XI, as well as the SP BUN union at the PTPN Marketing Office, the Chairperson of FSPP SPSI and others.

‘On September 30, SP-BUN PTPN IX General Chairperson Djoko Moeridno, a signatory to the September 27 statement, issued a signed “Statement of Position” which specifically accuses Hemasari and FSPM TG General Secretary Legimin of violating unspecified laws.

‘The statement affirms the willingness of SP BUN PTPN IX to “sacrifice body and soul to oppose the intervention of foreign parties who wish to destroy” the workers of Indonesia and threatens “PHYSICAL ACTION” against Hemasari and Legimin if they do not stop their union work.

‘The threatening statement was circulated throughout the PTPN sugar mills in East and Central Java – and sent to the Manpower Minister.

‘Since October 17, FSPM TG General Secretary Legimin has been followed by two unidentified men, who sit in a car outside his rented room in Surabaya.

‘Informed of this situation by the IUF, the ILO Director General wrote the Indonesian Manpower Minister on October 26 that these threats, and the government’s failure to respond to requests for action by the FSPM TG and the IUF, “constitute very serious violations of freedom of association, since the rights of workers’ organisations can only be exercised in a climate that is free from violence, pressure or threats of any kind against leaders and members of such organisations.”

The government has not responded to these threats by treating them as criminal offenses, nor has it guaranteed protection to the threatened trade unionists as demanded by the IUF.’

The IUF adds: ‘Public threats of violence against trade unionists in Indonesia must be treated as a matter of extreme urgency in view of the fact that human rights activists continue to be murdered in that country. As recently as September 2004, Munir, the country’s best-known human and labour rights activist, was murdered on a Garuda (Indonesia’s national airlines) flight by security agents posing as cabin crew.

‘Following a December 6 2005 cabinet shuffle, Indonesia has a new Minister for Manpower, Mr Erman Suparno.

‘The new Manpower Minister must react to the open threats of violence against the IUF and the FSPM TG by publicly condemning them, by taking the necessary measures against the authors of the threats and by launching a full investigation.

‘The government must also immediately take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of FSPM General Secretary Legimin and Hemasari Dharmabumi, for which we hold the government of Indonesia responsible.

‘And the Manpower Minister must show Indonesia’s commitment to compliance with its international obligations by acting to ensure that Daud Sukamto is reinstated at his job, with full back pay, that all harassment of the FSPM TG is immediately halted at PTPN X and the union allowed to function freely.’