Newsmaker Interview: Andi Gani Nena Wea

The president of Indonesia's largest labor union on the minimum wage, the fuel subsidy cut and his friendship with Jokowi

By Mary Silaban
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Labor unions have become an increasingly potent force in Indonesia in recent years, as witnessed by last year's national strike that paralyzed the capital for three days. The main driver of the labor movement here is the Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions (MPBI), made up of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPSI), the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Trade Unions (KSPI) and the Confederation of Indonesian Prosperous Labor Unions (KSBSI).

Andi Gani Nena Wea, President of the KSPSI is one of the country’s most important labor leaders. He spoke to AmCham Indonesia about issues such as the minimum wage and the fuel subsidy cut that are impacting on his members, and revealed that while he is good friends with Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, he might still take the governor to court.

AmCham: What is your view of the government cutting the fuel subsidy?

Andi Gani: Earlier this year, the government signed a decree to increase the minimum wage, the biggest increase ever. Then came the gasoline subsidy cut. As a result, the cost of living has already gone up by 25 percent, and there are many companies asking for a postponement in the implementation of the new wage. Some 30 percent of the workforce still receive the old salary, which has just exacerbated the problems they face. Thus, we [KSPSI, KSBSI and KSPI] refuse to accept the government's decision to cut the gasoline subsidy.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono keeps making promises. In 2012, he promised us that he’d provide hospitals for labor, transportation for labor and housing facilities for labor, yet the implementation so far is zero.

It has been said that the lifting of the fuel subsidy is good for Indonesia in general, despite the fact that it makes workers bear a higher cost of living.

There are many things in the state budget that can be improved upon to avoid a budget deficit rather than lifting the gasoline subsidy. I understand that Indonesia is part of the global economy so it is not immune to global conditions, but we all know that the annual budget absorption rate is only 70 percent. So if the government claims a budget deficit, I think that is a false statement.

The government has never been transparent in the cost of oil production and over its dealings with the oil "mafia." What the government keeps saying is “please understand the condition of the state budget," but it doesn't understand the condition of labor. Workers are not eligible for BLSM (government support for poor people who are affected by the increased gasoline price), because workers are not categorized as poor. We are against the BLSM, it is fooling the poor people, it makes them lazy.

We are committed to fighting for labor rights, and we will continue to lobby the government to create policies that helps safeguard workers’ rights. We might plan another national strike like we did in 2012, when more than four million workers took to the streets. 

But won't strikes deter new investors from coming to Indonesia, and force those already here to move to other countries?

APINDO [the Indonesian Employers Association] said that foreign investors would move to other investment-friendly destinations such as Vietnam and Cambodia. In an audience with [former] chairman of BKPM [Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board] Chatib Basri, I asked him, how many companies had actually asked to revoke their business licenses, and he said none of the companies had asked for that.

Indonesia is the third biggest consumer market in Asia, after China and India. I went to Cambodia and Vietnam and saw that their infrastructure is not as good as Indonesia’s. And it will cost more for companies to move to other countries and send their goods back to Indonesia. Jokowi said that if businesses don’t want to pay the minimum wage according to the new regional standards, they could move their businesses out of Jakarta. But so far none have done so.

Toyota plans to build a new factory in Karawang, one of the strongest bases of labor activity. It shows that when companies do what they should do, they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t say that fleeing investors is a reason to ignore labor rights.

It has been said that there are always more strikes in the build-up to a presidential election. How do you react to that?

The labor movement is an independent movement. Myself, Mudhofir [president of the KSBSI] and Said Iqbal [chairman of the KSPI] have been accused of following our own political agenda, that we want to be members of the legislature, that we want to sit in the House of Representatives. But you can see that none of us are listed as candidates for the next election. It is true that I am a member of the PDI-P and Mudhofir is part of the PKS, but our political parties never interfere in our activities.

My chairman never calls me to interfere. It works the other way around. People might think that PDI-P might gain sympathy from workers, but it doesn’t work that way. The fact that PDI-P and I share the same view on the gasoline subsidy cut is because we believe such a policy would make Indonesians suffer.

The MPBI fights for workers welfare. We don’t practice any politics. We don’t intend a coup d’état to take over the government. For us, our struggle is to achieve a better standard of living for our workers.

Do you see any presidential candidate that would stand for the labor movement?

I don't see anyone who fits the profile apart from Jokowi, if he runs. And public opinion has him as the preferred candidate.

Some people might say that I am subjective because Jokowi and I have been best friends for 14 years. A picture of us together appeared in The Straits Times, and word spread that we had made some kind of deal. But I'd like to tell people that I have just submitted a case on the deferring of the minimum wage in Jakarta, and that means Jokowi will have to appear in court. We are friends, but we realize that each of us has our own responsibilities, and we must fight for them.

How strong and significant is Indonesia's labor movement?

The International Labor Organization (ILO) recognizes the MPBI as the biggest labor organization in the world. Since 2010, the labor movement has become more solid and is led by more young people in their 40s. What is most important is for us, the presidents of the three federations, to set aside our own egos and work together to achieve our shared dreams.

Ten million workers organized under the MPBI are significant because the organization is not something that can be pushed around. Despite the power that we have, we are not anarchists. We love this country, we are not destructive. We are militants. 

Further Coverage

Labor Unrest in Indonesia: An Overview

Labor Issues: New Outsourcing Rules

Newsmaker Interview: Mudhofir 

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