Indonesian port workers threaten to strike over fuel price hike

The Indonesian government officially raised the price of subsidized fuel on September 3 and the repercussions are still felt today.  Protests and demonstrations persist in cities across the country.  During the third week, thirty thousand workers including port workers, members of various labor unions, staged a demonstration in the city of Surabaya to demand the governor of East Java to take concrete actions to help the poor.

Workers rally at East Java Regional House of Representatives.

Anto, a port worker, said they are demanding the government to reverse the fuel price hike, which he said is making life more difficult for the poor and lower middle-class.  His monthly salary, used to be just enough to support him and his wife, is now no longer sufficient and he has to dip into his savings.

“In the past, I was able to save a bit of my salary but now, with high inflation, I can’t do that and even has to use my savings for buying daily necessities.  I cannot save for emergencies now.  My salary did not increase in the past three years,” he said.

Labor unions’ demonstrations.

Jazuli, head of labor union in East Java province, wanted the government to lower fuel price and increase the minimum wage.

“The government increased the subsidized fuel price but not the minimum wage.  This is not fair to the poor, marginalized and impoverished people of Indonesia, who see a big drop in their purchasing power.  Moreover, in East Java in the past three years, generally, workers did not receive a pay rise.  Our demands are clear and the government should take action now.”

If their demands are not met, Jazuli said he would mobilize mass strikes to pressure the government.  The unions, with strong support of the central leadership, will continue with regular demonstrations all the way through to October 4 where there will be a mass strike.  

Emil Dardak, deputy governor of East Java, speaks with protesters.

Emil Dardak, deputy governor of East Java, in an official statement said the government has taken note of the people’s hardship and the provincial government is in the process of discussing with the central government regarding this issue.  However, there was no mention of raising the minimum wage.

Workers want the government to raise minimum wage, not fuel price.

Maritime Fairtrade interviewed two local business owners in Surabaya.  Muhammad Said, owner of a logistics cargo company at Tanjung Perak port of Surabaya, said he was worried about a mass strike, which can have serious consequences for his business.

“My truck drivers will go on strike and my operations will stop.  In a day of strike, I may lose up to hundreds of millions of rupiah.  It is also difficult for me to find replacement drivers and even if I did manage, I will still have to face the wrath of the labor unions for not supporting them.  And the consequence is worse than my financial loss,” said Muhammad Said.

Protesters at demonstrations.

On the other hand, Tono, owner of an outsourcing service company who has many clients in the industrial and port sectors, wished to use an alias to be able to speak freely.  He said he is not worried about the threat of a mass strike.

“Under the provisions of the Manpower Act, outsourced workers and employees may not join unions. If my workers join in the strike, I will impose penalties on them according to the law, which can be dismissal or termination of employment,” he said.

“If the government is considering an increase to minimum wage, I hope they can also think about business owners.  The impact of the fuel price hike is not only felt by workers or the lower middle class. I and other businessmen, big and small, are equally affected.” 

Top photo credit: iStock/ Martin Barraud

All other photos credit: Indonesian Labor Union Confederation (KSPI)

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo, Indonesia journalist, is a former political journalist with high dedication and determination to his craft. He is interested in writing about politics and international relations.

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