Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Ahead of the national strike scheduled recently, commuters throughout Indonesia's capital have prepared themselves for traffic chaos and perhaps violent clashes as up to a million workers and students are set to leave their workplaces and campuses and take to the streets to convey their anger about several acute labour issues.
This preparation by Jakartans has something to do with the bad experiences last year and earlier this year when mass rallies organised by several labour confederations not only thronged the city's main streets leading to the Presidential Palace, the House of Representatives compound and a number of ministries, but also turned violent as protesters set up blockades on toll roads in Jakarta and on the city's outskirts.
The general public no longer has much sympathy for the protesters, nor has it warmed to their message as the latter's actions, such as mass rallies, have caused traffic jams and often turned violent.
The government has appealed to workers to organise peaceful demonstrations to avoid any violent clashes with security personnel in the field, while employers have threatened to file lawsuits against labour union members for any violence or violations of the law during the strike.
In organising the national strike, members of labour confederations and student activists have also planned as an alternative scenario a blockade of strategic assets and government offices in their attempt to attract greater attention from the public and to press the authorities to meet their demands.
Union members defend their regressive and violent approach by claiming the government and employers have turned deaf ears to their diminished livelihoods caused by the prolonged practice of outsourcing and the cheap-labour policy.
Workers have also been disappointed with the government's plan to gradually implement the national healthcare program and to impose insurance premiums on low-income workers.
The outsourcing issue and cheap-labour policy is as old as the 2003 Labour Law, which allows companies to outsource their non core-business jobs to other companies, depriving millions of workers of job security.
The problems have been left unresolved because the government has shown no political will to resolve them.
The law, which was enacted under fourth president Megawati Soekarnoputri, accommodates mainstream issues of neoliberal economics but also those of the labour movement which are usually at odds.
Investors successfully implanted the outsourcing and contract-based concepts into the law in their attempt to keep down costs, while labour unions were glad about the acceptance of their aspirations for high severance and service payments. Besides, the law also prohibits employers from unilaterally dismissing workers.
In its implementation, the law has given uncountable benefits to investors and employers from the outsourcing practice but resulted in job insecurity and legal uncertainties for workers who have strongly opposed the neoliberal employment system over the past seven years.
Responding to the violent commemoration of May Day in 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tasked five state-run universities to carry out an in-depth study on the controversial law, but he and his government shelved the universities' recommendations because the House and the government recommended reviewing the law immediately to end the prolonged industrial conflict.
In 2010, the president also tasked the Indonesian Institute of Sciences with studying the law, but no follow-ups have been made as the latter also recommended an immediate revision of the law.
Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar knows well the outsourcing system's negative impact on the majority of workers' livelihoods but could not do much since the President did not give any green light to do so and for fear it would spark strong resistance from, mainly foreign, investors and capital owners.
He has also several times facilitated tripartite dialogue to seek a win-win solution to the acute issues, but they have ended in failure as employers and unions were at loggerheads over the crucial issues.
With support from the Constitutional Court, the minister has recently stopped issuing licenses for new outsourcing companies and threatened to revoke those of existing companies if they are found guilty of infringing the labour law.
In a lawsuit filed by a number of workers from Surabaya, East Java, the Constitutional Court partly annulled Articles 54-56 of the law on outsourcing and the contract system and decided that the outsourcing system was not a permanent system and therefore had to be reviewed for the benefits of workers.
It also decided that the contract system had to be valid for three years with two consecutive renewals after which workers had to be given the option of permanent status.
The cheap-labour policy and the mushrooming of outsourcing companies have a lot to do with the labour surplus and the low quality of human resources in the country as, according to data from the Central Statistics Agency, 40 per cent of the 107-million workforce has only an elementary school education, another 45 per cent are high school graduates and only three per cent are university graduates.
Union members and workers became further frustrated when the government recently announced the gradual implementation of the national health security and the imposition of premiums on low-wage workers due to financial problems.
Workers have supported the 2004 Law on a National Social Security System and the 2011 Insurers law in the fading hope that low-wage workers will be included in the category of the poor and will be recipients of financial aid and whose contribution to the social security programs will be covered by the government as is stipulated by the law.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.