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Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Asia sees worker protests

UNCERTAIN FUTURE Unions and labor activists take advantage of the holiday to stress their concerns over increasing unemployment rates and government policies

AFP , TOKYO

Naked Indonesian laborers put anti-economic globalism signs reading "Against colonialism," as thousands demonstrate to mark May Day in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta, yesterday. Thousands hit the streets of Indonesian cities calling for the resignation of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her manpower minister for alleged indifference to the plight of workers.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Indonesians turned out for nationwide May Day rallies yesterday.

In Japan the demonstrators urged the government and businesses to protect jobs, with the unemployment rate hovering near a record high.

Despite bright sunshine and a festival atmosphere, economic gloom could still be felt as Japan wallows in a 12-year slump.

Police estimated some 223,000 unionists turned out for May Day events held nationwide early yesterday.

In Tokyo, some 65,000 people gathered at Yoyogi Park for a rally, according to the organizer, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, with its leader promising to do his utmost to protect their livelihood.

Thirty-two non-governmental groups also joined the rally, vowing to work for better welfare and other goals.

"Suicide and crimes are increasing in accordance with company bankruptcies and job losses," Rengo head Kiyoshi Sasamori told the gathering.

"It tells us that job losses not only destroy people's everyday life but plunge the whole nation into a crisis," he said.

With an estimated 3.84 million people out of work, Japan's jobless rate was at 5.4 percent in March, just off a record high of 5.5 percent seen late 2002 through earlier this year.

Balmy spring sunshine along with food and drink vendors kept the rallies festive, but the harsh reality dampened spirits.

"Thousands of people were forced to leave last year because they had to move [to other cities] or be transferred to other sections," one 40-year-old system engineer from an electronics giant, told reporters at the Yoyogi Park rally.

"There's still a long way to go" until the Japanese economy recovers, he said.

Railway mechanic Tomomi Yada, 33, said job cuts have hit hard.

"The number of colleagues has been decreasing because of cost cuts but the quantity of work hasn't changed," he said, sipping beer with his colleagues after the rally.

"The annual pay I get hasn't increased so much for the past few years. I didn't want the seniority-based [pay] system to end, but I think that time won't come back," he said.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said yesterday that the average monthly wage for Japanese private sector workers in the year to March fell 2.1 percent from a year earlier, marking the steepest drop in 11 years.

The monthly wage averaged around Japanese Yen 343,125 (US$2,870) before tax for those employees at companies with five workers or more.

Meanwhile, thousands hit the streets of Indonesian cities yesterday to mark May Day, calling for the resignation of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and her manpower minister for alleged indifference to the plight of workers.

In Jakarta about 2,000 workers picketed the presidential palace, calling Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz "lackeys of imperialists and anti-workers."

"Create jobs for the people," read their banners.

"The government is not siding with workers. They even oppress us with the new labor law," said Fatullah, a worker at a state-owned steel company.

He said the law did not provide for severance pay for short-term labor.

The protesters also urged Manpower Minister Jacob Nuwa Wea to resign, saying he could not eradicate extortion and harassment of migrant workers by labor contractors.

Protests were also held by thousands of other workers across Indonesia, media reports said.

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