Thousands of Indonesian workers held Asia’s biggest May Day rally on Tuesday, demanding better pay and job security, amongst a heavy police and army presence.
Colorful protests organized by trades unions and left-wing parties across Asia shared the theme of better wages and conditions, and denounced government policies, as living costs spike in fast-growing economies.
Holding banners reading “raise our salaries” and “stop outsourcing contracts”, more than 9,000 workers gathered at Jakarta’s main roundabout before marching to the state palace.
Around 16,000 police members and soldiers were deployed to guard the protest, Jakarta police spokesman Rikwanto told reporters.
“Living costs have gone up but our salaries remain unchanged. We only make enough to eat but there is no money in the bank, no money for our children’s education,” protest leader Muhamad Rusdi told AFP.
“There’s also no job security. Jobs like telemarketing and production of goods such as electronics are outsourced (to contractors),” he complained. “We always live in fear of losing our jobs.”
Indonesia’s parliament in March rejected a plan to hike the country’s heavily subsidized fuel price by a third, after protests in Jakarta saw demonstrators hurl stones and police retaliate with tear gas and water cannon.
A rash of workers’ strikes that began late last year across the nation of 240 million people saw several provinces raise their minimum wages.
Factory workers on the outskirts of Jakarta blocked major roads and disrupted the international airport early this year, winning an increase from 1.29 million rupiah ($141) a month to 1.49 million rupiah ($162).
Raising the minimum wage was the main demand also for about 5,000 workers, domestic helpers and activists who held a noisy procession through central Hong Kong, clashing cymbals and chanting demands for the city’s incoming government.
In Manila, about 3,000 workers and activists marched to the presidential palace, bearing a giant effigy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino which depicted him as obedient to foreign capitalists.
And more than 1,000 workers took to the streets in downtown Taipei for a Labor Day rally that also condemned workplace exploitation.
In East Timor, Asia’s poorest nation which celebrates this month a decade of formal independence from Indonesia, police fired warning shots and arrested 84 people before dispersing some 500 protesters calling for higher wages.