Media Unions Press Minister

Union busting, low wages and outsourcing are just some of the many labor issues facing today’s media workers, industry activists said earlier this week.

“The labor problems that we face ourselves are actually not much different from the problems workers in other industries have to deal with,” Winuranto Adhi, the union coordinator for the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), said during a discussion with Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Erman Suparno on Monday.

Winuranto and several representatives of the newly-launched Federation of Independent Media Workers Unions met with Erman to push for better working conditions in the media sector.

The federation was launched in July to advocate for improvements in working conditions and to eliminate short-term contract-based employment in the industry, in which employees may work for years without certainty or opportunities for career advancement. Eight unions from Jakarta and Solo have so far joined the group.

Winuranto said low salaries at most media organizations, which mushroomed following the euphoria of press freedom after decades of tight government control, contributed to the problem of journalists accepting bribes to make ends meet.

An AJI survey in 2005 found that almost half of all reporters received monthly salaries of between Rp 600,000 ($60) and Rp 1.4 million, and the level of pay corresponded directly with their willingness to accept money from sources.

“This was also exacerbated by the lack of sufficient financial capital to establish media companies,” Winuranto said.

Since 2008, the AJI has campaigned for better remuneration packages that corresponded with the nature of the work and responsibilities of journalists.

The head of the media union federation, Abdul Manan, said that according to AJI records there were only 26 media workers’ unions out of the thousands of media outlets across the country.

“Many unions only get as far as the planning stage,” he said, adding that the growth of unions in the media sector was far behind other industries.

Winuranto said most media organizations were “allergic” to unions.

The manpower minister said employers should ensure their workers’ right to form unions since it was guaranteed in the 2003 Labor Law. “Journalists are the human capital of media outlets, which they can’t do without,” Erman said.

Separately, Ignatius Haryanto, a media analyst, said most media outlets were hypocritical in presenting themselves as torchbearers of democracy when they could not even be transparent about the labor struggles within their own organizations.

“It seems that there’s an unspoken solidarity between media owners not to bring up the subject when there’s a labor issue at another media company,” he said. “Most media workers are in a weak position when it comes to their employment status and their rights as employees.”

Ismira Lutfia

Jakarta Globe, September 17, 2009

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