Lack of Unions in Indonesian Media an ‘Absolute Irony’

The media have historically been some of the most tenacious advocates of workers’ rights, yet in one of the ironies of an increasingly independent and privatized national press, media companies remain resistant to letting their journalists unionize.

“It’s an absolute irony,” said Abdul Manan, chairman of the Federation of Independent Media Workers Unions.

Data from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) indicate that of the hundreds of media companies across print, on line, radio and television platforms nationwide, only 30 outlets have established press unions.

The resistance stems from how media owners perceive the workers’ unions. Most media bosses, Manan said, still take the conservative view that the presence of a union in their workplace would do more harm than good.

“Workers’ unions have always been synonymous with demonstrations, protests or leftist movements,” said Manan, who is the union chairman at Tempo.

He added that owners also tended to view unions as benefiting only the workers’ interests, not those of the company.

But this view does not entirely reflect reality, Manan said. “It’s to solve issues together, for the sake of both sides,” he said.

The reluctance to allow unions in the workplace has seen a few journalists in some media companies fired.

AJI’s Winuranto Adhi, who often helps in union-busting cases, cited the case of Bambang Wisudo, who in 2006 was embroiled in a dispute with the Kompas management. In 2010, there was a similar case involving a union worker at TV broadcaster Indosiar, and also at Suara Pembaruan, a sister publication of this newspaper, where some union workers found themselves among those retrenched in a restructurization.

The latest case is that of Luviana, a Metro TV assistant producer.

Luviana alleges the news station stopped giving her daily assignments after she demanded fairer treatment and better pay for Metro TV employees. She also agitated for the establishment of a workers’ union at Metro TV.

Winuranto said management sometimes used intimidation, suspension from daily tasks or forced retirement to stop journalists from unionizing or demanding unfulfilled basic rights.

But even among journalists, there is no consensus on the need for unions. Many identify themselves as professionals, Winuranto said, thus refusing to be categorized as laborers and steering clear of any involvement with union movements.

Luviana said others were often forced to accept “punishment” for being too critical of their own companies because they feared losing their jobs.

She said that was what made it difficult galvanizing support from fellow workers to unionize.

After three years as union chairman at Tempo, Manan was confident both sides could benefit from such a system, citing one case in which journalists asked the union to request evaluation results that had been withheld.

“The union became the bridge between the two sides,” he said.

Manan said unions could also help address more substantial matters.

“For example, the company can ask the union to communicate with workers when they have financial issues, like if they didn’t make a profit last year and are unable to afford to give out any rais es,” he said.

Anita Rachman | March 15, 2012


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