[Updated at 2:26 p.m.]
Indonesian workers converged on Central Jakarta in Wednesday’s massive May Day rally, halting public transportation and closing down major arteries as workers and labor unions marched to the State Palace and Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration in protest of the government’s planned fuel subsidy cuts and unfair labor practices.
More than 135,000 workers from three of Indonesia’s largest labor unions joined the protest on Wednesday. The protestors held rallies and speeches outside government buildings, calling on public officials to put an end to the controversial practice of contract labor called “outsourcing” in Indonesia. Outsourced workers lack the protection or benefits of regular workers. The government has curbed the practice, limiting the hiring of outsourced workers to select industries.
But labor activists are fighting to outlaw the practice all together.
Union head Arif Poyuono criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for failing to address the grievances of workers employed by state-owned companies. The companies, which are run by the Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises, continue to hire outsourced workers.
“Every May 1 all the workers of the world celebrate May Day,” said Arif, head of FSP BUMN Bersatu. “Indonesian workers should see it as a fighting symbol to get their welfare. During our struggle to get increase the welfare for Indonesian workers under the leadership of SBY and Boediono, none of our requests have been heard.”
State-owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan joined in the protest, marching briefly alongside labor activists Wednesday morning. Dahlan, who has been the focus of repeated inquiries from the House of Representatives over the use of outsourced workers, said he had nothing else to do that morning.
“There were no guests or important meetings at the office,” he said. “Because I have nothing to do … and traffic was light, I decided to walk with the workers.”
Dahlan said he understood the demands of the laborers.
“Workers should get better welfare each year,” he said, wiping sweat from his brow.
Yudhoyono, who will make May Day a national holiday next year, tweeted a series of May Day messages to workers.
“As the Head of State, I say Happy Labor Day to all Indonesian workers. I hope all workers get better welfare,” one Tweet read.
The president met with workers in Surabaya, East Java, on Wednesday, discussing workers’ welfare, according to the Tweets.
In Jakarta, hundreds of workers pushed their way into City Hall to demand an audience with Governor Joko Widodo. The protestors criticized the governor for allowing some companies to be exempt from paying workers the new minimum wage.
Joko raised the capital’s minimum wage 44 percent to Rp. 2.2 million a month. But members of the Federation of Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) said the higher wages had yet to become a reality.
“The delay on the new minimum wage was evidence that the government is not pro-worker,” M. Simanjutak, of FSPMI, said. “It’s not enough that we have been paid a low wage, but now the new wage is also delayed.”
Simanjutak accused the governor of being out of touch.
“He doesn’t know the right direction,” he said. “The poor are getting poorer.”
The Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) dismissed May Day complaints of low salaries and poor treatment as political posturing.
“Those kind of speeches have a certain purposes,” Apindo secretary general Suryadi Sasimta said. “[They are trying] to look for popularity for the sake of politics and money interests.”
The association, a vocal critic of Joko’s wage hike, is one of the nation’s most powerful pro-business lobbyists. Suryadi argued that protests like these are a threat to the nation’s economic growth.”
“If employers keep being the target of the protests, when will our country move forward into an advanced country?” Suryadi said. “If it keeps on happening, it is not impossible to think that many businessmen go outside the country”
The protests shut down public transportation along Jalan Sudirman and Jalan M.H. Thamrin, cutting off the center of the city as they marched to the Medan Merdeka Square. Commuters complained of the congestion as TransJakarta deployed officers to secure the Kota Station to Blok M corridor.
“How could they use both the roads and the busway lanes too?” a driver named Arman said.
More than 25,000 Jakarta Police were deployed to provide security during the protest. Police were concerned that Wednesday’s protest could turn violent ahead of the government’s planned fuel subsidy cuts. But by Wednesday afternoon, there have been no reports of violence.