By Tanalee Smith
The Associated Press
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Tens of thousands of workers thronged the streets of Asian cities Saturday in annual May Day marches, demanding job creation and minimum wage hikes.
In Indonesia’s capital, thousands of workers marched peacefully on the presidential palace to mark the international workers’ day. Some 15,000 police lined the streets of Jakarta, barbed wire was stretched in front of the palace, and four water cannons were at the ready.
“Workers unite! No more layoffs!” the crowd shouted.
Rally organizer Bayu Ajie said the government had harmed the welfare of Indonesians by implementing policies — such as a free trade agreement with China — that cost jobs, decreased wages, and encouraged corruption.
“This corrupt government has taken the side of the capitalists and businessmen, not us, the workers,” Ajie said in a speech to the crowd.
The Indonesian workers’ demands include social security guarantees, an end to outsourcing, the elimination of arbitrary layoffs, and human rights for workers.
Police expected about 10,000 people to march in Jakarta, said police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar.
Thousands of people rallied in other cities in Indonesia.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had lunch with workers at an automotive factory, where he promised to create safer working conditions and improve job prospects if the workers maintained political and economic stability.
“We want to do the best because we care for you,” Yudhoyono told the factory workers.
In Tokyo, about 32,000 workers and labor union members rallied in Yoyogi Park, wearing headbands and raising banners calling for job security.
National Confederation of Trade Unions leader Sakuji Daikoku said more than 17 million people in Japan are temporary or part-time workers. He urged companies and the government to increase full-time employment.
“Under such working conditions, there is no hope or bright future,” Daikoku said. “Let’s make a change to create a society where full-time employment is the norm.”
Japan’s unemployment rose to 5 percent in March, with 3.5 million people jobless.
In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, several hundred workers held a peaceful demonstration against a proposed 4 percent goods and services tax. “Oppose GST” and “Long live the workers!” they chanted.
“We want the GST to be scrapped for good because it is a burden to the poor,” said rally organizer S. Arutchelvan. “The government should increase corporate tax instead.”
Police detained five people for carrying banners opposing the GST, but they are expected to be freed later, Arutchelvan said.
In Hong Kong, about 1,000 protesters — including janitors, construction workers, and bus drivers — demanded the government introduce a minimum wage of 33 Hong Kong dollars ($4.30).
“We demand reasonable pay. We demand a share in the fruits of economic success,” the workers chanted at an urban park before setting off to Hong Kong government headquarters.
This freewheeling capitalist Chinese enclave is one of the world’s wealthiest cities, but critics say its wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.
A recent government survey showed that some 555,000 people in this city of 7 million made less than 35.3 Hong Kong dollars ($4.50) an hour in the second quarter of 2009.
“A lunch box at a fast-food restaurant costs about HK$30 ($4). It’s an insult if you can’t afford a lunch box after working for an hour,” pro-democracy legislator Leung Yiu-chung said on the sidelines of Saturday’s protests.
“We calculated this minimum wage level scientifically. You are able to sustain a living. You are able to support your family,” pro-China labor organizer Chan Yuen-han said. “Try living on HK$20 ($2.60) an hour. You can’t even support yourself.”
Hong Kong long has resisted a minimum wage, to maintain its free market policy. But the government aims to pass legislation on it by July, Matthew Cheung, secretary for labor and welfare, said Saturday. He did not comment on a possible hourly wage level.
In Taiwan, thousands marched in Taipei to demand better pay and job security. The protesters also complained that employers are increasingly hiring temporary workers to skimp on insurance and pension payments for regular workers. ♦
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Min Lee in Hong Kong, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, and Annie Huang in Taipei contributed to this report.