From Fri Jun 16 18:24 EDT 1995
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 1995 15:23:50 -0700
From: Human Rights Watch <<
Message-Id: <>
Subject: gsp petition

Petition on Indonesian worker rights to the U.S. trade representative

From Human Rights Watch/Asia. 14 June, 1995

Labor rights practices in Indonesia have been under international scrutiny, particularly since 1992, when the United States Trade Representative (USTR) agreed to review those practices in light of petitions submitted by Human Rights Watch/Asia and the International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) provision of the Trade Act. The USTR review was suspended in February 1994, after the Indonesian government undertook a number of legal reforms and began gradually to raise the minimum wage across the country. Other reforms were announced in November 1994 prior to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, following a meeting between USTR Mickey Kantor and Indonesian Minister of Manpower Abdul Latief. Some of the reforms have borne fruit: there appear to be more government prosecutions of companies that fail to pay the minimum wage, for example.

But despite the Kantor-Latief agreement, grave abuses of labor rights continue in Indonesia:

The most fundamental labor right of all -- freedom of association -- continues to be denied to Indonesian workers. No union other than the government-controlled Serikat Perburuhan Seluruh Indonesia (SPSI) or the All-Indonesia Workers Union is allowed to function, and efforts to form independent unions are met with obstruction by government security agents, and harassment or arrest of labor organizers.

Intervention by the military in industrial disputes remains routine, both in terms of ending work stoppages and in overseeing negotiations between labor and management.

A government crackdown on the press in June 1994 that resulted in the closure of three leading news publications ended any move toward generating public debate on labor issues, and while articles on labor disputes continue to appear in the press, journalists have reported being under pressure not to report incidents that place the government in a negative light.

Reports continue of forced labor and debt bondage, particularly in estate crop production.

A 1994 reform that allows collective bargaining agreements to be reached at the plant level has not become a means to greater freedom of association.

In this petition, Human Rights Watch/Asia provides evidence that Indonesia is not "taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights" as required under the GSP provisions of the Trade Act and therefore requests the USTR's office to resume its review of Indonesia's labor rights practices under that Act.

Lack of Freedom of Association

Indonesian government assertions notwithstanding, no progress whatsoever has been made in the last year toward greater freedom of association or the right of Indonesian workers to form independent associations. One of the reforms announced by the Ministry of Manpower in January 1994 that led to the USTR review being suspended was a new regulation allowing workers to conclude collective bargaining agreements at the plant level. But in the new regulation, "union" was defined as "SPSI" (the government union) and no federation above the plant level has been allowed except under SPSI auspices. The one independent union that claims to have met legal requirements for membership, a federation formed in April 1992 under the leadership of labor lawyer Muchtar Pakpahan called Serikat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia (SBSI) or the Prosperous Workers Union of Indonesia, has been unable to get formal recognition from the government. In May 1994, Manpower Minister Abdul Latief said in a press conference, "In the eyes of the Ministry of Manpower, there is no SBSI.

From the beginning, we have referred to it only as 'Muchtar Pakpahan's group.' As of June 30 last year, we have refused to acknowledge SBSI as a labor union." SBSI continues to be unable to call a meeting without military interference, and its members face constant harassment, as the following examples attest:

On February 7, 1995, Soniman Lafau, deputy head of the Medan chapter of SBSI, was detained briefly for having in his possession a calendar with a picture of Muchtar Pakpahan on it. Lafau, who had only been released from prison on January 25 after serving a wholly unjust sentence for incitement in connection with the April 1994 worker riots in Medan, was arrested by an officer of the Labuhan Deli subdistrict military command (Koramil) as he was making a telephone call from a public telephone on the Medan Industrial Estate. He was taken first to the district military command, then to the Medan police headquarters where he was held overnight and then released.

On March 13, 1995, Mrs. Sunarti, an SBSI official, was summoned by police for interrogation and asked to testify as a witness in a government case against an activist from a non-governmental organization, Yayasan Pijar, that had been highly critical of the June 1994 crackdown against the press. Mrs. Sunarti has faced repeated harassment for her activities on behalf of SBSI; she was arrested and briefly detained in February 1994 in Semarang, Central Java, on charges of "spreading hatred against the government of Indonesia" after SBSI called a one-hour general strike across the country to demand an increase in the minimum wage. There was no reason for summoning her as a witness in the Pijar case except to further harass her.

On April 20, 1995, a group of police officers picked up five SBSI organizers at their Medan, North Sumatra office and held them for interrogation for six hours at the regional police station. They were accused of holding a meeting without a permit.

On April 25, 1995, some thirty uniformed riot police and troops from the Jakarta district military command (KODIM) forcibly entered the SBSI national office in Jakarta and broke up a luncheon gathering to celebrate SBSI's third anniversary. In addition to SBSI members and officers, five guests were present, including U.S. embassy labor attache, Tom Murphy, and country director for the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, Val Suazo. The military justified its intervention on the grounds that SBSI had no permit to hold the luncheon, although no SBSI application to hold a gathering has ever been approved.

Military Intervention in Labor Disputes

Neither the repeal of Ministry of Manpower Regulation 342 of 1986, authorizing military intervention in labor disputes, nor the Kantor-Latief agreement in November 1994 has made any perceptible difference in terms of involvement by the security forces in labor negotiations or peaceful demonstrations by workers to demand rights guaranteed under Indonesian law. One particularly striking case in recent months involved the efforts of the military to prevent a young woman worker from bringing her boss to court in a sexual harassment case. The following cases are illustrative:

On January 5, 1995, workers at the PT Hwasung Indonesia garment factory in East Jakarta went on strike, saying that they had not been paid their full salary since December 1994. Some 170 workers sat down in the factory courtyard, shouting their demands. Management reported the strike to the military, and police and soldiers from the subdistrict commands immediately appeared on the scene, admonishing the workers to be orderly.

On January 19, several workers of the PT Walet Kencana Perkasa, a mosquito repellent factory in Surabaya, were summoned to the police station on charges of instigating workers to go on strike to demand a pay raise. Based on reports by the factory's security personnel, the local police head (Kapolsek) of Rungkut, Lieutenant Dimoen, summoned a worker named Karno to the police station to be questioned on his alleged crime of turning off the machines in the factory. The crime is punishable under Article 335 of the Indonesian Criminal Code and carries a one-year sentence. Karno's colleagues maintained that Karno was innocent. The workers then went to the police station to protest the interrogation of Karno and sat peacefully for almost eight hours until Karno was released.

On February 3, 1995, hundreds of workers at the PT Tancho factory in Tanjung Priok, theport district of Jakarta, went on strike to protest a new company policy of equalizing wages of new workers with those who had worked up to ten years and to protest the unit of SPSI in the factory that workers said always sided with the factory's management. The workers said that the factory unit of SPSI had never given any consideration to their complaints and had even forbade them from protesting the company's policies. Negotiations to settle the strike then took place, involving the factory, the Ministry of Manpower, and security forces.

On February 15, work stopped at the PT Mega Rubber Factory, a tire factory in Semarang, to protest the company's failure to pay a holiday bonus and a production bonus at the same time. The dispute led to negotiations which were overseen by the head of South Semarang police command, Captain Sumardi.

On February 22, 1995, some 200 workers from the steel factory, PT Gunung Garuda, in Bekasi, West Java, went on strike demanding a holiday bonus, health and accident insurance, and the establishment of an SBSI unit in the plant. They also complained of unilateral pay cuts and lay-offs by management. The workers tried to meet with members of the local parliament (DPRD) but were prevented from doing so by police. After a meeting with the local Ministry of Manpower office, they were sent back to the factory by police.

On March 23, 1995, eighteen workers at the garment factory, PT Hertindo Mahamega, in West Java, including six SPSI officers, were fired. Management summoned police and military officers as well as officials from the local Ministry of Manpower office to the factory when the dismissals were announced, so that workers felt compelled to accept severance pay and leave. The personnel manager had previously warned employees who participated in a collective bargaining tutorial organized by the Asian American Free Labor Institute that they would be fired for organizing an SPSI union at the factory.

On March 29, some 800 workers went on strike at PT Sanyo in Jakarta, demanding higher wages. Although the strike was peaceful, local police forces from the district police command (Polres) and district military command (KODIM) were called in to "prevent involvement of third parties." That phrase often means non-governmental organizations or independent union organizers.

In Purbalingga, Central Java, on April 12, some 250 workers from PT Sun Star, a wig factory in the village of Kalibong, subdistrict Kalimanah, gathered at the bus terminal to demand the reinstatement of five colleagues fired for demanding the minimum wage and to march about 100 meters to the factory. They were surrounded by police and soldiers from the local district command (KODIM) during the short march. While the demonstration was taking place, a separate meeting to consider worker demands was underway, consisting of the SPSI representative in the factory; the head of SBSI for the Purbalingga district; the local office of the Ministry of Manpower; and representatives of the security forces.

Twenty-one people were detained for several days following labor rights demonstrations on May 1, 1995 in Jakarta and the central Javanese city of Semarang. The demonstrations involved some 1,500 students and workers organized by the Pusat Perjuangan Buruh Indonesia (PPBI) or Center for Indonesian Workers' Struggle and Solidaritas Mahasiswa Indonesia untuk Demokrasi (Indonesian Student Solidarity for Democracy). PPBI calls itself an independent workers' union; the demonstration included workers from PT Surya Indah Garmindo; PT Kreasi Plastic Indotama; PT Queen Ceramic Setiabudi; and PT Murti Plastindo. Several of the detained workers were badly beaten in detention, and at least one had to be hospitalized. Demonstrators were demanding an increase in the minimum wage to Rp.7,000 (about $3.50) a day.

On May 4, 1995, twenty workers from the PT Duta Busana Dinastri garment factory in south Jakarta went to the Ministry of Manpower office to protest the factory's threat to dismiss them and fifty other workers, mostly women. They were told to submit letters of resignation, and when they protested, they were forcibly evicted from the Ministry office by police officers.

The repeal of Decree No. 342 in January 1994 by Decree No. Kep-15 A/MEN/1994 obviously did not end military intervention in labor disputes. As NGO activists pointed out at the time, several laws remain on the books that permit such intervention. One of these is a decree of the internal security agency, BAKORSTANAS, No.02/Stanas/1990 which gives the military a broad mandate to intervene in strikes and disputes in the interests of social and political stability. At the time Decree No. 342 was repealed, in fact, the then military commander of Jakarta, Major General Hendropriyono, warned that repeal "does not mean the army won't be paying attention to labor issues."

Imprisoned Labor Activists

Additional evidence for restrictions on the right to freedom of association comes from the arrest and detention of close to a dozen labor rights activists and organizers on charges of incitement, following the outbreak of violence after a huge workers' rally in Medan, North Sumatra in April 1994. None of those tried and convicted for incitement took any part in the violence, and indeed, to the extent that they were involved in organizing the rally at all, had worked to ensure that it was peaceful and orderly. Muchtar Pakpahan, general chairman of SBSI, was one of those found guilty of incitement and sentenced to four years in prison, was released on a technicality in May 1995; the appeals court ruled that he could not be detained as long as an appeal to the Supreme Court was pending. That rule has rarely been invoked on behalf of other political prisoners, and many believed the release was a gesture to the International Labor Organization before it was to hold its annual meeting in Geneva, at which a report condemning Indonesia for violations of freedom of association was to be presented.

Another detained labor activist is Amosi Telaumbanua, aged thirty-seven, head of the Medan branch of SBSI, who was sentenced on October 20, 1994 to fifteen months in prison. The prosecution appealed the verdict, and the High Court in Medan raised the sentence to three years in January 1995. Amosi Telaumbanua should have benefited from the same legal technicality as Muchtar Pakpahan, since he also appealed the High Court's ruling to the Supreme Court, but he remains incarcerated in Medan.

Amosi Telaumbuana was arrested on April 29, 1994 and went on trial in April charged with "publicly inciting others to engage in illegal actions," which is punishable under Article 160 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. The evidence cited by the prosecutor to support the charges was as follows:

In February 1994, Amosi, together with fellow SBSI activists Riswan Lubis, Soniman Lafao, Hayati and Fatiwanolo Zega, put up posters and leaflets calling workers within the industrial zone in Medan to strike to demand worker rights.

Amosi invited several worker representatives from PT Otani, PT Roanindo, PT Indo Karya Tetap Cemerlang, and PT Inti Baruna to a planning meeting for a strike demanding a wage increase from Rp.3,100 to Rp. 7,000 and freedom of association. The strike and demonstration took place on February 11, 1994. Local police and military had not given permission for the strike, and it was therefore considered illegal.

Between March and April 1994, Amosi organized meetings with representatives of workers from different factories and urged the workers to protest to the governor of North Sumatra, demanding respect for worker rights.

On April 12 and 13, 1994, Amosi, along with several representatives of worker rights NGOs (Jannes Hutahaean from Yayasan Pondok Kreatif, Parlin Manihuruk from Kelompok Pelita Sejahtera and Maiyasyak Johan from Lembaga Advokasi Anak Indonesia) had a meeting to plan and organize the April 14 , 1995 demonstration in Merdeka Square, Medan. Some of the posters he and his colleagues prepared had the following statements /messages:

On April 12, 1994 Amosi along with other officials of SBSI Medan led the demonstration in Merdeka Square, Medan where around 20,000 workers had gathered since early morning. He then led the workers to walk to the Governor's office and demanded to have a meeting with the Governor. The demonstration was illegal because it had not received any permission from the local police/military.

In his defense, Amosi asserted that SBSI was merely informing the workers about their rights and about the existing labor laws in Indonesia. He also emphasized that if such rights were not respected by companies, the workers have the right to strike. He acknowledged the fact that he had presided over several strikes and demonstrations in Medan and had helped organize the demonstration in Merdeka Square that took place on April 14, 1994. But he denied responsibility for the ensuing violence because he had urged workers to return to their workplaces after they failed in their initial mission of meeting the governor of North Sumatra.

Another detained activist is Maiyasyak Djohan, aged thirty-eight, executive director of Lembaga Advokasi Anak Indonesia (LAAI or the Indonesian Institute for Children's Advocacy). He was accused during his trial of taking part in a meeting on April 10, four days prior to the Medan rally, where witnesses testified that he gave a pep talk to the workers. His "incitement", according to the prosecutor's charge sheet, consisted of the following words:

This demonstration is fully within the rights of workers that are protected by the law. To go on strike through such a demonstration will raise the dignity of workers. This meeting already means that 70 percent of your goals have been achieved, and you have to keep going forward -- don't retreat!

The fate of workers at this moment is like a sick patient, and we are the doctors who can cure your illness, but if the patient himself doesn't have the will to recover, the doctor cannot do anything, because government agencies like the Ministry of Manpower do not have any interest in defending workers. Don't be afraid to take part in this action, because not only will you be supported by many others, but you are entitled to what you are demanding.

As for the military, don't treat them as the enemy because they are only carrying out orders. Their wages are the same as workers, and there is no way that they will dare to oppose you. Their numbers are small, and there are many more of you. Don't let this demonstration be restricted just to one area -- it should spread to other places like Tanjung Morawa, Delitua, Belawan and Binjai, and if it does, the military will be overstretched, and if they bother you, resist them, because there are more of you than there are of them. The army won't dare to shoot, because Indonesia has a huge international debt, and it would be embarrassed in the eyes of the world.

Maiyasyak denied that he had ever uttered those words, and said that he had simply announced at the meeting that he was offering his legal services to the workers. One of the witnesses who testified against him and whose testimony was used to confirm that in fact he had made the above speech was a policeman who had not been present at the April 10 meeting. He had merely heard of the alleged speech from another prisoner; nevertheless, his testimony was accepted as evidence. Another witness, whose interrogation deposition cited the above speech, recanted in court, saying he had been tortured into giving the first deposition.

Maiyasyak himself took no part in the April 14 rally. He was arrested on September 18, 1994, five months after the incident, by police who were not in uniform at the time and who did not present a warrant. He had been interrogated earlier by police in June 1994. On June 18, questioning had centered on his relationship with a number of SBSI activists who had already been arrested on charges of incitement, including Mochtar Pakpahan, Amosi Talaumbanua, Soniman Lafao, Riswan Lubis, Fatiwolo Zega and Hayati. All but Riswan Lubis and Mochtar Pakpahan were clients of Maiyasyak, and he said publicly that the reason he was being interrogated -- and later arrested -- was that the police in Medan sought to violate the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality by forcing Maiyasyak to reveal what the SBSI officials had told him as their defense counsel. Maiyasyak was sentenced to nine months in prison in October 1994.

Military Response to a Complaint of Sexual Harassment

The degree of military involvement in labor disputes is illustrated starkly by a case involving a young woman worker at a garment factory near Karanganyar, a town outside Solo, Central Java, who tried to complain about her boss. When she decided to bring a case against him to court in 1995, the local military arrested the non-governmental activists who had tried to help her.

On August 1, 1990, Zainab became an administrative assistant in the marketing department of PT Surakarta Sentosa Sejahtera, a factory on the road between Solo and Sragen in Karanganyar. The head of the marketing division, Tan Kim Seng, began to pay her unwelcome attention, she said, pinching and patting her buttocks and fondling her breasts. She protested, but he told her if he wanted to do so, it was his prerogative. Her work forced her into daily contact with Tan, but she needed the money and did not feel able to resign. There were apparently several confrontations between Zainab and Tan.

On August 25, 1994, Zainab felt ill and wanted to lie down, she said, but a co-worker named Dewi would not give her the key to the rest room. They had a heated argument, and the next day, Zainab was fired on the grounds that she was unable to get along with her colleagues. As she had no formal dismissal, however, she continued to work until October 3, when she had to leave the factory on a personal errand. When she returned, she found a delegation consisting of the factory-level unit of SPSI, the government union; a military officer; and the head of the personnel department waiting to tell her she was formally fired. The letter of dismissal, signed by Samsono, head of personnel, was given to her the next day, and it cited her continuing clashes with fellow workers as the reason for her firing. (Dewi, the woman with whom she had had the argument over the rest room, was not dismissed.)

On October 17, Zainab went to the local Ministry of Manpower office and to the district police command (Polres) to complain about her firing and about the constant sexual harassment from Tan. The Ministry of Manpower told her they agreed it had been unfair to fire her, but sexual harassment was beyond their mandate. She then sent letters to local newspapers, detailing her experiences. On October 21, Zainab received a letter from Tan, saying he was suing her for defamation. Representatives of SPSI came to see her shortly thereafter and tried to persuade her to make a public apology to Tan, saying he would drop the charges if she did so. She refused.

In the meantime, a non-governmental organization called Kelompok Studi Gender Surakarta (KSGS) or the Surakarta Study Group on Gender heard of Zainab's case and offered their support, which she accepted. The first hearing in the court case was scheduled for April 26, 1995. The night before, on April 25, Zainab met with activists from KSGS at the offices of Gita Pertiwi, a women's organization, and formed a new group called Forum Solidaritas Untuk Hak- Hak Buruh Perempuan or Solidarity Forum for the Rights of Working Women. As they were meeting, two carloads of military intelligence agents came to the office and arrested four of the KSGS activists. They were taken to Colomadu police station where they were interrogated separately until midnight. Zainab went home but was later taken from her house for questioning at the district police command of Karanganyar by the police commander himself.

At the hearing the next day at Karanganyar district court, police took thirteen students into custody; they are believed to have been released shortly afterwards. On May 2, the head of Gita Pertiwi, at whose offices Zainab had met with KSGS, was summoned by police for interrogation. The second hearing in the case took place on May 8, and women's rights activists distributed leaflets supporting Zainab. A young woman active in the new Solidarity Forum, Dyah Karyati, received a summons from the police at the hearing and was told to appear at the local police station on May 16. The next day, police told the local newspaper, Suara Merdeka, that they were questioning two members of the Solidarity Forum in connection with the distribution of leaflets criticizing the government, an apparent reference to the flyers given out at the court hearing. When Dyah Karyati appeared before police on May 16, she was told that she was suspected of violating Article 155 of the Criminal Code, spreading hatred against the government of Indonesia. As of this writing, she has not been formally detained but is still undergoing investigation. Human Rights Watch/Asia has not been able to ascertain the current situation of Zainab.

The case is a vivid illustration of the failure of SPSI to act in the interests of workers, of police interference in a labor dispute and of the determination of local government officials to prevent both freedom of association and freedom of expression.

Forced Labor

Human Rights Watch/Asia has received an increasing number of reports of forced labor and debt bondage on government-run plantations. Although it has not been able to conduct independent fact-finding to ascertain the accuracy of the reports, the allegations are serious enough to warrant a thorough investigation.

In one report from March 25, 1995, workers on a rubber plantation, PTP-IV Bandarbetsy, North Sumatra, told a journalist they and their entire families, some of whom were not employees of the plantation, had been working for six months on Sundays without pay because the company told them the production quotas had not been met. They were told they would receive Rp.3,500 ($1.70) for the Sunday work, but at the end of the month, the promised Sunday payments never came. When asked if they had complained to anyone, they indicated they had been told that if they wanted to continue to work, they had better remain silent.

Developments in the Marsinah Case

The single most publicized case in recent memory involving labor rights abuses in Indonesia involved a young labor organizer named Marsinah who was found murdered in early May 1993 after having tried to intervene on behalf of colleagues arrested after a strike at the factory where they worked, the Catur Putra Surya watch factory in Sidoarjo, East Java. New developments in the case have resulted in the freeing of all those convicted in 1994 of the murder and a new investigation into possible military involvement. These developments are welcome, but the USTR's office should not conclude that the case has been satisfactorily resolved until the full facts have come to light and those responsible have been prosecuted.

To review the case, many NGOs suspected at the time Marsinah's body was found that the district military command had been involved in some way in her murder. For many months, however, there were no arrests in the case. Then, in October 1993, eight executives and employees of the watch company were secretly abducted, tortured and detained incommunicado for almost three weeks by military intelligence before being moved to a police station and formally charged with the murder. The eight argued during their trials that they had been coerced into accepting a version of events manufactured by their military interrogators, but all were found guilty and sentenced to heavy prison terms. In November 1994, the East Java High Court overturned the conviction of the factory owner, Judi Susanto, who had received a seventeen-year sentence for masterminding the killing. In early May 1995, the convictions of all eight were overturned by the Indonesian Supreme Court, as the National Human Rights Commission announced that it had evidence that persons other than the original defendants were involved in the murder; the Commission then recommended that the police reopen the case to find the real culprits.

In early June 1995, security authorities, led by Indonesian armed forces commander Gen. Feisal Tanjung and army chief of staff Gen. Hartono, announced that they had set up a new inquiry into the Marsinah case and that four soldiers from the district military command of Sidoarjo, including an officer from the intelligence section, would be investigated. According to Maj. Gen. Imam Utomo, the commander of the army's East Java Brawijaya Division, the four are Lieutenant Max Salaki, Captain Sugeng, Sergeant Karnadi and Corporal Busaeri. Gen. Utomo acknowledged that a "procedural error" had been committed by the intelligence section during the initial investigation of the eight original defendants but denied that torture had been used to extract information from the defendants.

While the overturning of the original convictions and the new investigation into military involvement are welcome, scrutiny of the Marsinah case should be continued by U.S.T.R. until it is clear that a full and impartial inquiry has been concluded and those responsible for the labor organizer's death have been brought to justice.

Collective Bargaining Agreements at the Plant Level

Human Rights Watch/Asia has received evidence to suggest that many plant-level collective bargaining agreements, allowed by virtue of a 1994 Ministry of Manpower decree, are in fact overly influenced by company management. Because we have just received this evidence, it will be analyzed and sent on to the GSP subcommittee at the earliest possible opportunity as an addendum to this petition.


Labor rights in Indonesia continue to far fall short of international standards. The Kantor- Latief agreement in November 1994 on a program to achieve "comprehensive industrial relations" did not directly tackle the fundamental issue of freedom of association and the right of workers to organize themselves into independent trade unions, free of government control. That right continues to be violated, and no amount of restructuring of SPSI or stepped-up prosecution of companies that violate the minimum wage laws will change the nature of government restrictions on the labor movement. Without substantial, verifiable progress on the core issues of freedom of association and military intervention in labor disputes, Indonesia cannot be seen as "taking steps" to afford worker rights, and should be placed under active review by the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

June 14, 1995

World History Archives Gateway to World History Images from World History Hartford Web Publishing