A Case of Media Labor Protection
On June 23rd MNC Group, one of the largest media group in Indonesia, unilaterally dismissed around 300 employees. The case highlighted the problems of labor protection in Indonesian media industry.
A Case of Media Labor Protection
On June 23rd MNC Group, one of the largest media group in Indonesia, unilaterally dismissed around 300 employees. The case highlighted the problems of labor protection in Indonesian media industry.

“As long as capitalism is the prevalent system in Indonesia, our problems with inequality and wealth gap will never be solved.” An interesting remark, considering that it came from Hary Tanoesoedibjo, Indonesia’s media tycoon and Donald Trump’s bussiness partner whose name felt almost synonimous with capitalism.

A bit later, he corrected his statement that actually “Indonesia’s conception of capitalism is mistaken.” It remains a mystery, what is the “right kind of capitalism” that Hary endorses.  If he likes to practice what he preaches, though, it might involve union bustings and unilateral dismissals.

Recently, Hary Tanoe’s MNC (Media Nusantara Citra) Group dismissed around 300 of its employees. The dismissal is the result of “a change of bussiness model”, in which MNC Group closed its subsidiaries, notably numerous Sindo Newspaper regional offices. Genie Tabloid and Mom and Kiddie Tabloid suffers the same fate and laid off 42 of its employees. In a different case, unilateral dismissal also occured in MNC channel (90 employees), and INews TV (8 employees).

Tarmuji, a photographer for Sindo Newspaper in East Java region, testified in an open letter that the dismissal comes in a sudden. There is no warning, except from some rumors going around. He received his dismissal notification mail just two days before Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr) holiday.

Such one-sided dismissal clearly violated the Indonesian Labor Laws, which required every termination of employment to include bipartite negotiation. The management also arbitrarily decided the number of the severance pay, which failed to fulfill the minimum rights of the employees as stated by the Labor Laws.

The representatives of the employees, with the aid of AJI (Independent Journalist’s Association) and FSPMI (Indonesian Media Workers Federation), have seeked help from the Department of Labor and Transportation. With the Department as the middleman, negotiations are currently underway.

Not a New Trope

Unfortunately, this lack of of protection faced by media labors is not a new phenomenon. In In 2014’s presidential election, Jokowi was the opponent of Prabowo, which was the presidential candidate of Hary Tanoe’s political coalition. Raymond Rondonowu, ex-news producer for “Seputar Indonesia” (a news program under RCTI, one of MNC Media’s television channels), protested the program’s news piece. In 12 June, “Seputar Indonesia” aired a news piece on an alleged leak of presidential debate material received by Jokowi’s campaign team. Raymond complained, saying that the news was dubious and the source was unreliable. Later that night, he was swiftly fired.

INews TV, another media under MNC group, were also guilty for union busting. In 2016, SKIB, a union established by iNews TV workers, sent a mail to the management questioning the fate of some union members who were still working under limited contracts. The management of INews TV responded by gradually stopping the extention of the contracts of six employees who were members of the union. The union demanded a bipartite negotiation with the management which then answered by the dismissal of Iman Lesmana, the leader of the union. Iman does not receive severance pay, although he had worked for 8 years at the company. The management said that Iman had violated a company rule by informing the media about the existence of workers who worked under the provincial minimum wage of Jakarta.

Hary Tanoe’s MNC Group was often found guilty with employee mistreatment, but they were far from the only culprit. In 2012, Metro TV dismissed Luviana, its ex-News Assistant Producer, for unclear reasons. Allegedly, her outspoken and critical attitude against Metro TV’s treatment of its workers turned her into a thorn in the flesh for the management. After her dismissal, Luviana protested about the unjustified nature of her dismissal and her unpaid wages. She faced intimidation and violence for her efforts.

The life of an Indonesian journalistic labor is still marred by problems and unfairness. The change in technology, leading to newsroom convergence and office shutdowns, could only further challenge their already weak position. Across 2015 to 2016, a lot of employee dismissals involving Harian Semarang, Cakra TV, Bloomberg TV, Kompas TV, and many others went unreported. In 2016, dozens of employees from Indonesia Finance Today were dismissed without their last wages and severance pay; the case was brought to the court.

United or Bust

Indonesian Labor Laws have clearly stated the rights of workers, including the rights to be treated fairly and to be included in the deliberation of a dismissal, and also the rights to form union. As stated by the article 28 of the 2000’s Labor Law number 21, the state guarantees that nobody would be allowed to hinder or forbid any worker from establishing, managing, and/or becoming a member of a worker’s union.The article 151 of the 2003 Labor Law number 13 also stated that any kind of dismissal should involve a deliberation and discussion between the employer and the worker or the union representing the worker.

In spite of these clear legal protections, journalists are still susceptible to mistreatment.

The role of the union is essential in improving the workers’ bargaining power. However the growth of workers’ union in the media industry has been stunted at best. As stated by AJI’s (Independent Journalist’s Association) research titled “Masih Bertumpu Pada Sang Pelopor” (Relying on the Pioneers), in 2010 there were only 27 registered media workers’ unions out of the 2,314 registered media corporations in Indonesia.

According to the report, workers are often struggling to establish unions, as the management actively impeding their efforts. Propaganda tactics, intimidation, and the transferring or dismissal of key persons was often employed to hamper the growth of unions. In some cases, the management established rival “unions” that they controlled. These rival “unions” would then sabotage the work of the “true” worker’s union, by competing against them for worker membership and stopping them from getting the minimum 50% plus one membership of the total workers.

Other than the pressure of the corporate management, AJI has also identified some internal issues impending the growth of workers’ union in the media. One of them, is that journalists tend to still not see them as “labors”. They often try to distance themselves from “labor” activity, such as forming unions and organizing protests. A lot of exisiting unions are also managerially and organizationally weak, resulting in unclear programs and missions. Those facts, combined with the pressures from the management who often spread negative stigma on unions as “whiny” and lazy, often made workers hesitant in joining and developing unions.

The modern Indonesian media landscape is getting more and more dominated by media tycoons with political ambitions like Hary Tanoe. As their massive network of businesses grow, the inequality of bargaining power between them and their workers would only widen. In the modern internet era print media workers are getting more prone to the loss of job, and newsroom convergence would also threaten the livelihood of the journalists. The MNC group mass dismissals are merely the latest alarm call. Media labors should not be mere pawns and tools for the political and financial ambitions of these media moguls. Now, more than ever, they need to stick together. []

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Firman Imadudin

Studied the media at Universitas Indonesia. A writer and editor for Remotivi. Interested in anthropology, humanities, film studies, and media studies.

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