JAKARTA - More than 2,000 Indonesian workers protested peacefully against the price hike of subsidised fuel in the capital Jakarta on Tuesday, and warned that a nationwide strike is on the cards if the government does not act.
They laid out banners that read “Reject Fuel Price Hike” and “People say our land is heaven, but it’s heaven only to the powerful” in front of the House of Representatives (DPR) building.
Another proclaimed: “Higher fuel prices suffocate workers”
In the wake of rising global prices of oil and gas, President Joko Widodo raised fuel prices last Saturday by about 32 per cent, to rein in ballooning energy subsidies that may outstrip the 502 trillion rupiah (S$47.7 billion) budgeted.
Carrying trade union flags, protesters also sang, danced and cheered as a demonstrator on a truck shouted demands through a loudspeaker for the decision to be reversed.
“Today we shall not stay quiet. All this while, the elites have been deciding our fates and the fullness of our stomachs, the elites who hide behind this building.
“They have never cared about the hearts and minds of the small people. But we, the working class people, we will never give up, we will fight,” he declared.
“Fight, fight, fight,” the crowd chanted.
The fuel price hike, the first since 2014, triggered protests by labour unions and students in regions such as West Java, Central Java, East Java and South Sulawesi, even before it was announced.
Demonstrations spread to cities Surabaya, Makassar and Medan, and small rallies continued to take place every day, with tyres burned and some roads blocked.
Fuel prices are a political tinderbox in Indonesia, and the authorities are bracing themselves for more mass protests this week as anger mounts over the price hikes, which protesters say will hurt workers and the urban poor the most.
On Tuesday, thousands of policemen and soldiers were deployed to guard several protest locations in Jakarta, as well as petrol stations.
A protester in Jakarta, machine operator Ibas, 48, said he will have to spend an additional 35,250 rupiah every month - 150,000 rupiah in total - after the fuel price hike, just for his work commutes.
The price of Pertalite, the most popular 90-octane petrol, has risen from 7,650 rupiah to 10,000 rupiah per litre.
“I ride 1.5 hours to work and back home every day. There is no public transportation where I live, so I have no choice but to use the motorcycle,” he told The Straits Times.
“My salary of 4 million rupiah has stayed stagnant for years, but the price of food and other essentials has gone up.
“I still have not paid last month’s school fees for my two children because money is so tight, and now comes even more bad news. I don’t know how my family is going to survive,” he added.
Besides Pertalite, the price of 92-octane petrol, known as Pertamax, was increased from 12,500 rupiah to 14,500 rupiah per litre, while Solar, a type of diesel fuel, was raised from 5,150 rupiah to 6,800 rupiah per litre.
Mr Said Iqbal, head of the Indonesian Trade Union Federation, told reporters in Jakarta: “We are confident that President Joko Widodo’s heart is with the people... The voice of the people must be heard by the President too, and not only the voice of the elites and the politicians.
He added: “If the government does not reduce the fuel prices by end-November or early December... we will carry out a nationwide industrial strike.”