The GSBI Experience in Indonesia

Emelia Yanti MD

The relationship between companies and their workers, even now in Indonesia, is an unfair economic reality. Low wages, lack of social security, long working hours, as well as companies implementing inhumane practices are all problems that continue to arise in this relationship. It is because of this that a working class movement is a must, to strive for our rights and benefits as companies will never be kind enough to give these themselves; rather workers must struggle to attain them.

Indonesia has a history of working class movements that endeavoured to gain a better fate for workers both in colonial times, and after Indonesian independence. During Soeharto’s New Order government, workers’ lives and fate guaranteed Indonesia’s development. When the New Order was rising, foreign investment and loans from overseas came through the Co-ordinator for Capital Investment (BKPM), which promoted Indonesia as a superior production site with ‘cheap labour’ to attract foreign investment.

Workers’ problems such as low wages, compulsory overtime, dismissal without legal procedure, minimal social security, and low workplace safety standards are all issues that often arise and become triggers for labour strikes.

Wages are a crucial area of negotiation between workers and employers that increasingly fell to an extremely concerning position during the New Order. Manufacturing workers’ wages especially are still among the lowest in the world. This scenario formed as a result of the economic globalisation process, signalled by the process of industry relocation since the 1980s.
The New Order also eliminated the only independent workers’ organisation, the SPSI, which was first named the FSBI (the Federation of Indonesian Workers) and changed the movement as a function of socio-economic development.

So, how are the conditions of Indonesian workers post-Soeharto? There has been no change as a result of the system dubbed the ‘information era’, beside the growth of independent unions (1998) at a number of levels: factory, local, and federal, totalling around 72 unions (according to the Indonesian Labour Department, Jakarta). This does not even include unions outside Jakarta at Bogor, Tangerang, and Bekasi (Jabotek). The development of these independent unions cannot be taken as a measure of the improvement of workers’ rights (and their families), but at least it is a sign of heightened awareness to create unions and organise themselves in these unions.

Role of independent unions in industrial conflict
Work stoppages under the ‘Reformation Era’ (after Soeharto’s time) are in general a product of the lack of fulfilment of standard rights for workers. According to SPSI data, there were 312 strikes 1993, 417 in 1994, and 1,130 in 1995; all concerned the same issues - working conditions and wages. These figures multiplied early in the Reformation Era when 1,890 work stoppages occurred from 1998-1999 in Jakarta and other areas of Java.

The use of strikes to gain standards and rights is indeed still commonplace, but is no longer the only tool employed after the fall of Soeharto’s authoritarian regime in 1998. The development of unions at a number of levels has, according to the workers, given some degree of freedom to unions. The formation of unions has become a necessity in a number of sectors: manufacturing, the service sector, tourism, and banking, etc.

In the past few years, workers at the BPG clothing factory in the industrial area of Mount Putri, Bogor have experienced terrible working conditions, contract work, lack of social security, overtime often unpaid, and work targets (per hour/per day) – if these targets are not achieved workers are forced into unpaid overtime; also a single 45 minute break is imposed for a nine hour working day (contravening the legal minimum 60 minute break per day), and they suffer verbal abuse from department heads. Thousands of BPG workers supported the formation of a union as an instrument for struggle.

In Indonesia, the lawful formation of unions is protected by law (Law no.21, 200 re: Workers’ Unions). In practice, things are different. When 300 workers at the BPG factory formed a union, management rejected it with the excuse that the factory had not yet given permission for workers to form a union. The company also carried out a campaign of intimidation targeting organisers, banning them from organising activities, even though the union was established legitimately and legally registered.

Number of workers sacked as a result of forming a labour union
No
Company Name
No. of workers dismissed
Date/reason for dismissal
Additional information
1.
PT. Panarub Co. Ltd.
Tangerang
15 (labour union boards)
1998-2000; indiscipline, distributing pamphlets without permission, unproductive, provocative
* Since company was founded in 1998, intimidated and dismissed PERBUPAS board members until Ngadinah case in 2001
* Indonesia/Taiwan joint venture
2.
PT. Adi Develop Footwear
Tangerang
320 (labour union boards and members)
1999, 2001, 2003; inefficiency
* Dismissals in 1999 only labour union board members
* Korean manager
3.
PT. Kemakmuran Sapta Perkasa
Tangerang
200 (labour union members)
1999; inefficiency
* Taiwanese manager
4.
PT. Tae Yung Indonesia
Tangerang
507 (labour union boards and members)
December 1999 after 5 day strike; unharmonious relationship
* Company managed by a Korean
5.
PT. Sandarafine Garment
Tangerang
15 (labour union boards)
February 2001; unproductive and inefficient
* Company managed by a Korean
6.
PT. Garmenindo Jasa Pratama
Tangerang
200
Company closed Feb 1999 for bankruptcy
* Reopened Aug 1999 in Purwakarta, recruiting old labourers on contract
* Managed by a Taiwanese
7.
PT. Spotec
Tangerang
9 (union boards and members)
Inefficiency, indiscipline, and unproductive
* Dismissals in June 2003 the company cannot give evidence to support reasons given for dismissal
* Korean manager
8.
PT. Lintas Adhikrida
Cileungsi - Bogor
300 (union boards and members)
1999 for Perbupas board members and again in 2001 and 2003; inefficiency, unproductive
* Indonesia/Taiwan joint venture
9.
PT. Sinarup Jaya
Cileungsi - Bogor
300 (union boards and members)
2000; unharmonious working relationship
* Chinese manager
10.
PT. Citra Abadi Sejati
Texmaco Group
Cileungsi - Bogor
9 (union boards)
2001; provocation, unharmonious work relationship
* Indonesian (Indian ethnicity) manager
11
PT. Pacific Rimasri Garment
Cileungsi
360 (union boards and members)
Inefficiency, unproductive
* Dismissal occurred in 2001 and 2002
* Indian manager
12
PT. Mitra Guna Sahabat Utama I
Cibinong - Bogor
500 (union boards and members)
Company closed Feb 2002; bankruptcy and financial reasons
* Re-opened April 2002 in same place, recruiting former workers under contract
* Indonesian owner
13.
PT. Mitra Guna Sahabat Utama II
Pabuaran - Bogor
300 (union boards and members)
Company closed May 2003 for bankruptcy and “no order” reasons
* Re-opened July 2003 in same place, recruiting former workers under contract
* Indonesian owner
14
PT. Kaji Sangyo Indonesia
Bogor
500 (union boards and members)
Company closed in Oct 2002 - bankruptcy through lack of orders
* Japanese manager
15
PT. Busana Prima Global
Bogor
174 (union boards and members)
July 2003; illegal strike, absent from work for 5 continuous days
* Korean manager
16
PT. Upati
Bogor
70 (union boards and members)
2001; inefficiency
* Taiwanese manager
17
PT. Arista Alexindo
Depok
800 (union boards and members)
December 1999; after strike June 1999 to Oct 1999, company suspended a union board member for asking union members to celebrate May Day 1999
* Indonesian (Chinese ethnicity) manager
18
PT. Emperor
Bekasi
800 (union boards and members)
Strike - absent from work for 5 continuous days
* Strike because company refused to recognise union
* Korean manager


Documentation: Gabungan Serikat Buruh Independen (GSBI), 1998-2003

Company tactics and strategies
The strategy to destroy movements and unions has a long history in workers’ movements in Indonesia, in the colonial era, Old Order, New Order and continues in the current ‘Reformation Era’. From 1998-1999 hundreds of workers were sacked for forming unions or being active in them. As Ngadinah, the head of PERBUPAS (association of footwear workers) experienced at a footwear factory (Adidas), just because she led a strike for better working conditions and standard rights, she had to go to jail.

Likewise, Haryanto, a PERBUPAS organiser at a Nike footwear factory, was sacked with the excuse that he was not productive, but actually it was because he was recruiting union members. Mugianto, the head of the SBGI (the Independent Clothing Workers’ Union) had a similar experience at the CAS factory that produces for Nike, Levis, Liz Claiborne, Dockers, Ralph Lauren, and other well-known brands. Mugianto told members that the SPSI is useless and does not manage to change working conditions. Later the factory complained to the police accusing him of provocation.
Four SBGI organisers had similar experiences at the BPG factory, where they were demoted, e.g. from assistant supervisor to machine operator, and their wages were cut; their average of 1,180,000 rupiah per month was reduced to 578,000 rupiah. Terrorising workers using local aborigines has also become a tactic used by companies. This intimidation is not conducted secretly but clearly in view of other workers as a strong warning not to do the same if they do not want to be disciplined.
‘Low productivity’ or ‘difficult working relations’ are clichéd excuses that companies often use to achieve their goals. If a worker (25-30 years of age) who has been at the factory for four years is deemed no longer productive, how is this measured? What is the measurement of a ‘harmonious relationship’ between workers and companies? Class conflict (between worker and company) is a natural part of humanity; it seems that harmonious relationships between these classes is impossible.
To attain their objectives, companies no longer use customary methods such as intimidation or discipline, but also cooperate with the government and military. Government, military and police are true friends to companies by undermining union strength. This also happened to 174 BPG factory workers who were consistently active. They were unilaterally disciplined by the company and permitted by law to turn legitimate issues around; the work stoppage was deemed to be illegal because the factory was not informed at least seven working days prior, as required in paragraph 140, sentence 1 of Law no. 13, 2003 – workers must inform the company, police, and government in writing of plans to strike; they did this, although they only did so two days before the strike.
Because the strike was conducted for five working days and workers were late informing the factory, police, and local government, and just because they were striving to improve workers’ rights and conditions, which the factory and a corrupt government had already violated, 174 workers suffered the severest industrial penalty.

In industrial relationships in Indonesia anything can change suddenly – like a close relationship between company and worker. A worker who is deemed to be productive, skilled, disciplined, and according to management is a ‘golden child’ may gain privileges (especially higher wages). But the company’s attitude reverses 100 percent if a ‘golden child’ becomes demanding, critical, or active in the union.

Cases like these are common. The same thing happened to a number of staff at the BPG factory. Long before the industrial conflict many active union members at BPG were ‘golden children’ according to management due to dedication to work. Many staff at first gained a position and a good wage quickly because of their relationship with the company.

However skill, discipline, and close relationships mean nothing if the workers become vocal, critical, or involved in the union, which the companies see as a threat to their authority that up to this point was successful in restraining thought and convincing staff to remain obedient and silent. The moment companies feel that their staff are no longer compliant, they find fault with them.

One of the mistakes companies make is that they always believe that the thoughts and souls of staff can be bought easily. The experience from these cases becomes our basis to encourage staff to continually learn from what they see, feel, and hear in their environment – including social and political changes. The mistake is proven by escalating industrial conflict that is occurring now. Table 2 shows some examples.

Table 2: Companies that violate freedom of labour alliance
No
Company Name
Product/Brand
No.of Workers
No.of Unions
1.
PT. Panarub Co. Ltd.
Tangerang
Sport shoes/Adidas
8,000
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* Perbupas - GSBI
2.
PT. Adi Develop Footwear
Tangerang
Sport shoes/Nike
6,000
2: * SP. TSK – SPSI
* Perbupas - GSBI
3.
PT. Kemakmuran Sapta Perkasa
Tangerang
Slippers and shoes
1,800
1: * Perbupas - GSBI
4.
PT. Tae Yung Indonesia
Tangerang
Jacket/Goldix, Lebex, and C&A
1,300
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* ABGTeks - GSBI
5.
PT. Sandarafine Garment
Tangerang
Shirts, pants/Levi’s, Dockers, GAP
1,200
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* ABGTeks - GSBI
6.
PT. Garmenindo Jasa Pratama
Tangerang
Shirts
200
1: * ABGTeks – GSBI
7.
PT. Spotec
Tangerang
Sport shoes/Spotec, Reebok
3,000
2: * SPTSK – SPSI
* Perbupas - GSBI
8.
PT. Lintas Adhikrida
Cileungsi - Bogor
Sport shoes/Nike
3,000
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* Perbupas - GSBI
9.
PT. Sinarup Jaya
Cileungsi - Bogor
Slippers/Fila
500
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* Perbupas - GSBI
10.
PT. Citra Abadi Sejati
Texmaco Group
Cileungsi - Bogor
Shirts, pants, T-shirts/Levi’s, Nike, Ralph Laurent, Dockers, Liz Claiborne
4,000
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* ABGTeks - GSBI
11.
PT. Pacific Rimasri Garment
Cileungsi
Shirts, Jackets/GAP
2,000
1: * ABGTeks - GSBI
12.
PT. Mitra Guna Sahabat Utama I
Cibinong - Bogor
Shirts, pants/Wal Mart, Reebok, Harley Davidson
500
1: * ABGTeks - GSBI
13.
PT. Mitra Guna Sahabat Utama II
Cibinong - Bogor
Shirts, pants/Wal Mart
300
1: * ABGTeks - GSBI
14.
PT. Kaji Sangyo Indonesia
Bogor
Shirts, children's clothing/Doqment
500
2: * SPSI
* ABGTeks - GSBI
15.
PT. Busana Prima Global
Bogor
Sports clothing/Bear USA, ECKO, HEAD, Le Coq Sportif, Lotto
2,000
2: * SP.TSK – SPSI
* ABGTeks - GSBI
16.
PT. Upati
Bogor
Photo album
500
2: * SPSI
* GSBI
17.
PT. Arista Latexindo
Depok
Latex (doctor's gloves)
1,200
1: * GSBI
18.
PT. Emperor
Bekasi
Shoes
1,800
1: * Perbupas - GSBI

Documentation: Gabungan Serikat Buruh Independen (GSBI), 1998-2003

Worker solidarity
Solidarity is a tool representing the power of labour and often displayed by workers in industrial disputes to fight for rights and interests. Solidarity is not just built from workers within a company, but also labour unions at various levels; local, national, and international.

Solidarity between workers can be seen from Ngadinah’s case (an employee at an Adidas shoe company), when at every trial, labour unions demonstrated at police stations, Ministry of Manpower, and courts to pressure every trial. Solidarity support also came from various labour unions, ‘NGOs perburuhan’, and other international organisations, leading this case onto the agenda at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June 2001.

Solidarity action from workers outside GSBI, such as the ones faced by Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta workers; broken slipper case faced by Hamdani an employee of PT Osaga, Tangerang; fights from PT. Latexindo, Medan workers; PT. GRI, Bogor, and many more. Even though these cases did not involve significant numbers, labour unions in Indonesia have fully realised the meaning of solidarity or building power between labour unions. This can be seen from spontaneous or organised actions through establishing action committees or labour union alliances to face various labour cases.
Serious problems are facing independent union federations like SPSI, which used to be the only labour federation recognised by the government. In dealing with the increased numbers of intimidation and attack from companies to employees and the freedom of alliance, independent unions also have to deal with the SPSI, which made a comeback as a yellow union for companies and government.

Government influence on labour
Labour problems are social, economic, and political problems. For example, the ‘dual functions’ policy of the Army and Police in social, economic, and political matters has allowed the Army and Police to intervene in labour cases by using military action to exert physical and psychological pressure on workers, like the infamous case that occurred in 1993, resulting in the death of Marsinah.
This policy was implemented during the New Order period, and persists under Megawati’s administration. Inherited from Soeharto’s time, overseas loans that have not been repaid are borne by the workers, especially loans owed to international financial organisations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Consultative Groups on Indonesia), which workers repay through the Indonesian government.

New labour regulation No. 13, about manpower, legalised the contract working system, the use of outsourcing workers, worker dismissal without government approval, the loss of the union right to accompany members in interviews with management, after forming a company council a decision to strike has to go through certain procedures, and major labour unions only can now make Collective Working Agreements (Perjanjian Kerja Bersama) with management.
The above scenario is the current reality facing Indonesian workers and conditions are certainly becoming much worse. Since new legislation was passed in March 2003, many companies dismiss workers and re-employ them under the new contract system or by outsourcing, labour sectors that in the future might predominate over permanent workers.

Privatisations, contract working, and outsourcing, etc may be the results of global market competition, but behind them there is a global capitalist agenda to weaken or even destroy labour unions in various countries.

Closing notes
As long as capital has power over governments, labour conflicts will never end and this is a reality facing workers in many countries. Worker exploitation is not just implemented by foreign companies, but also by local businesses. Capital does not recognise the concept of humanity, only the smallest capital and highest possible profit are recognised, and this can only be done through maximising the use of the employees’ energy.

The destruction and repression of unions is not only happening in Indonesia, South Korea, China, and Sri Lanka, but also in many countries. Although there is solidarity within the working class and international solidarity between labour movements such as those in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. However, it raises the question of how big is its influence to exert pressure against companies?

The cases won as a result of international pressures are just small wins compared to the losses experienced by most workers.

A win for South Korean workers is a win for every worker in the world; yet the loss for Sri Lankan or Indonesian workers is a loss for every worker in the world. This is a basic principle in the labour movement: each worker fights for every other worker.