May Day protests are widespread across Asia
Trades unions and left-wing parties staged colourful May Day protests across Asia, sharing the theme of better wages and conditions, as living costs spike in fast-growing economies.
Thousands of Indonesian workers held Asia’s biggest rally, demanding better pay and job security, watched warily by a heavy police and army contingent.
Carrying banners saying “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 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 subsidised fuel price by a third, after protests in Jakarta that 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 hike 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 on the city’s incoming government.
“The problem with Hong Kong is that the wealth is concentrated on a small number of people, many people are still living in poverty,” university professor Fernando Cheung, who teaches social work, said at the rally.
“That’s why Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest income gaps between rich and poor. We urgently need a redistribution of wealth,” he said.
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 a dog obedient to foreign capitalists.
They carried banners saying “raise our pay now” and “fight for socialism”.
But in a Labour Day speech, Aquino said: “If our wages go even higher, what foreign investor will put his money here? Our economy could fall even further behind.”
The government in Taiwan is also fretting about its competitiveness in the face of rising global energy prices.
Last month it announced that electricity prices would rise by up to 37 percent from mid-May, following a recent 10 percent increase in petrol prices.
Denouncing the increases, more than 1,000 workers took to the streets in downtown Taipei for a Labour Day rally that also condemned workplace exploitation.
“Oppose exploitation” and “oppose double hikes,” the protesters shouted, waving matching placards.
In East Timor, Asia’s poorest nation which this month celebrates a decade of formal independence from Indonesia, police fired warning shots and arrested 84 people to disperse some 500 protesters calling for higher wages.
Police said they were forced to intervene to break up the “illegal demonstration” after protesters began hurling stones and marching to a hotel in Dili where some staff had recently been laid off.