Indonesians Push for Labor Rights Human Rights Groups Say the `Model Developing Economy' Has Undermined Worker Welfare

By Margot Cohen, | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 1992 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Indonesians Push for Labor Rights Human Rights Groups Say the `Model Developing Economy' Has Undermined Worker Welfare


Margot Cohen,, The Christian Science Monitor


AS Indonesia convenes a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Jakarta this week, the US government announced that it will investigate allegations of forced labor and the military suppression of Indonesia's factory workers, who are among the lowest-paid in Southeast Asia.

Hearings in Washington, to be held this October by United States Trade Representative Carla Hills, could embarrass Indonesia's President Suharto. Mr. Suharto is expected to hold up his country at the summit as a model of development, marked by rapid economic growth and prompt repayment of debt. The investigation could lead to a cutoff of beneficial trade quotas under the General System of Preferences (GSP).

Petitions from human rights organizations such as Asia Watch and the International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund have alleged a pattern of repression of Indonesia's independent labor unions. Under US law, foreign trade partners must provide acceptable working conditions, including the freedom to organize and bargain collectively, to qualify for GSP trade privileges. The US decision to review these privileges gives tacit support to critics who charge that Indonesian companies have sacrificed worker welfare for economic gain.

"We are not happy" with the US investigation, said Payaman Simanjuntak, director general of Industrial Relations and Labor Standards at Indonesia's Ministry of Manpower, in an interview. "There is nothing really new in the case submitted by Asia Watch." Indonesia avoided suspension during a similar GSP review in 1989.

Suspension of GSP privileges would mean a loss of face more than income. Less than 10 percent of Indonesia's $3.4 billion worth of exports to the US last year fell under GSP. Some analysts doubt the US will order GSP suspension, given its past hesitancy to upset relations with this strategic nation brimming with investment opportunities.

Indonesian officials see little to worry about.

"I don't think the United States is willing to do that," Mr. Simanjuntak said, referring to GSP suspension. "If the investigating committee finds something wrong with our system, it's a matter of negotiation. That will be the maximum."

But critics welcomed the move.

"Indonesia is very backward in terms of catching up to international labor standards," says Valentin Suazo, head of the AFL-CIO office in Jakarta. "Working conditions are horrendous in many factories."

In places like Tangerang, an industrial zone west of Jakarta, many factories do not pay the minimum wage, which barely tops $1 a day. Child labor is endemic. Local newspapers have reported a spate of mass food-poisoning at factory cafeterias.

More than 300 wildcat strikes have erupted in Indonesia's industrial centers since January, triple the official figure for all last year. Slowly, an independent labor movement is emerging, despite state surveillance, beatings, and expulsion of protesters.

"Humiliation is crueler than murder," reads a graffito on the door to a workers' dormitory room in Tangerang. "How long must I be patient?" asks another.

Workers have begun writing their own chronologies of labor disputes, surreptitiously photocopying and distributing them to inspire further action.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Indonesians Push for Labor Rights Human Rights Groups Say the `Model Developing Economy' Has Undermined Worker Welfare
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?