Indonesia: Workers demand COVID-19 lockdown coupled with wage subsidies

31 March 2020 11:43

While Indonesia has a Health Quarantine Law, the government has yet to implement a lockdown and temporarily shutdown workplaces to protect its citizens from Covid-19. This was reportedly widely criticised by the public, particularly by trade unions which viewed it as prioritising big business interests over and above public health. 

“It seems that Jokowi is more interested and concerned in protecting the economy instead of giving equal attention to the people’s health and safety,” SERBUK General Secretary Khamid Istakhori said. 

“We need to immediately take steps to protect our communities and temporarily close workplaces while providing wage subsidies to all workers, as well as other measures to safeguard their livelihood,” Istakhori added. 

SERBUK reported that while Indonesia has only registered 1,414 COVID-19 cases, it said that it could be the result of the country’s low testing capacity. The union also underscored the country’s 122 COVID-related fatalities (8.7%), which it said is the highest in terms of proportion in the world. SERBUK pointed out that several cities in Central Java have already implemented more stringent measures, putting pressure on the government to act.

SERBUK said that it has been negotiating with employers to prioritise workers’ health and safety. It reported that in the Nusantara Building Industries, a rolling work schedule has been implemented to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The company has also committed to pay its workers their full wages. 

At the PLTU Sumsel 1 power plant (where SERBUK just concluded negotiations on a collective agreement following a 15 day strike), the union is working to make sure that its employer stays true to its commitment to pay workers during the month-long temporary project closure.

In Karawang, SERBUK sprayed disinfectants around its union office to ensure a healthy and safe office for union staff and members. 

Meanwhile, The KPBI confederation, where SERBUK is affiliated to, has written to the Indonesia Ministry of Manpower in response to a national directive circulated to employers allowing them to impose wage cuts and work hours due to COVID-19.

KPBI President Ilhamsyah said that workers need economic security to endure the crisis. “The government must compel employers to support workers during this crisis. To allow employers to exploit this crisis to drive down wages is reprehensible.”