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Govt accused of selling out workers for free trade deals

Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Govt accused of selling out workers for free trade deals

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

1 May 2007

Labor activists on Monday accused the government of selling out Indonesian workers by signing free trade agreements with foreign countries.

Director of the Center for International Relations Studies (CIRes) at the University of Indonesia, Syamsul Hadi, said when the Indonesian government signed free trade agreements with developed countries, it needed to exercise flexibility in its labor market.

"This flexibility implies that the government must dismantle all protection given to the labor market, be it social security, health insurance or pension funds," Syamsul said in a discussion organized by the SBIB, a coalition of non-governmental organizations promoting fairness in world trade.

Syamsul said as a result of the agreement, the labor force would be subjected to market forces. "Workers will be hired on a contractual basis and can be dismissed anytime and without any benefits."

He also said that liberalization of the labor market would deal a severe blow to less skilled workers.

"The influx of foreign workers, especially expatriates with superior skills, will sideline local workers with limited skills and will reduce their chances of employment."

He accused the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration of doing little to support workers’ rights.

"In fact, this administration only acts on the wishes of major capitalist countries," he said, adding the aborted amendment of the Labor Law in 2005 was made reportedly after a demand from Japanese investors.

Presenting survey results from SBIB’s labor working group, labor activist Sumartono said a free trade regime, influenced by rich capitalist countries, had given rise to uncertainty among laborers.

"Brutally liberalized industrial relations has resulted in the absence of job security and uncertainty in income among laborers, especially among female laborers," Sumartono said.

Under liberalized industrial relations, workers who are paid based on time and output or who are contracted lose a number of privileges, says Sumartono.

In survey results based on interviews and focus group discussions on labor in Greater Jakarta, SBIB said contract workers were paid according to a minimum-wage standards, but they were not included in social security programs.

Workers are not entitled to paid leave.

As for female workers, SBIB discovered that there was an age limit that barred them from continuing to work for the same employer.

"There is no maternity leave and once female workers got married or became pregnant they were immediately fired," Sumartono said.

Free trade has also resulted in increased unemployment for workers here, he said.

According to SBIB, due to free market access of foreign garment products, 77 percent of textile companies in Java and Bali have stopped operating, resulting in 1.2 million people losing their jobs.