Indonesians call for higher wages on May Day

By Ainur Rohmah

TUBAN, Indonesia (AA) – Hundreds of thousands of people — some wearing zombie face paint — took to the streets across Indonesia to demand higher wages and better working conditions during May Day rallies.

More than 100,000 people carried posters and wore T-shirts matching their unions’ colors as they marched toward the presidential palace in Jakarta, before continuing to the capital’s biggest stadium to attend a musical performance.

According to the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions, an estimated one million people joined the crowds in 28 provinces, including tens of thousands who traveled to Jakarta from other regions as police tightened security.

The national Confederation’s president, Said Iqbal, told Anadolu Agency that workers were demanding that the government repeal a regulation governing minimum wage increases passed last October.

“We reject the low wage. Raise the minimum wage in 2017 to amount to [an increase of] 650,000 rupiah [$49 a month],” he stressed.

Under the regulation, which had led to protests outside the parliamentary complex, the wage increased by around 10 percent based on inflation and gross domestic product for the fiscal year.

Workers at Sunday’s rallies voiced objection to tax exemptions for large companies and the eviction of the small traders.

They also called for an end to the criminalization of activists and social workers, urging that they instead be protected against being fired or sentenced to jail.

Last October, around 23 labor activists, two lawyers and a student were brought before court after demonstrating against the minimum wage.

President Joko Widodo — who took office in Oct. 2014 following a populist campaign — posted a message on his Twitter account expressing hope that Indonesian workers would be competitive and have prosperous lives.

“Happy International Workers Day,” wrote Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi.

A member of the Confederation said a low-cost housing program launched by the president last year had benefited workers, but the country still needed more pro-labor policies.

“We are very grateful to the President for programs for workers,” quoted Andi Gani Nena Wea as saying.

The majority Indonesian workers face financial difficulties amid the rising cost of living and increasing prices for necessities as well as housing.

May 1 is celebrated by many labor unions and workers worldwide, and is generally a public holiday in many countries.

Indonesia began celebrating May 1 as a national Labor Day holiday under the administration of Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The rule of dictator Suharto from 1967 until 1998 had witnessed the repression of workers and their attempts to voice their demands and rights.