The International Labours/Workers Day or May Day is ‘celebrated’ in many countries, including Indonesia. Various issues and demands were voiced by Indonesian trade unions in each year’s May Day ‘celebration’. Lately, the demands were predominantly around issues of outsourcing and (increased minimum) wages. The movement does indeed contain positive message in improving the condition of Indonesian working class. However, several riots and chaos situations happened during the May Day brought negative stigmas about trade unions.
Many companies started to find a way to avoid the establishment of trade unions in their company by making their own employee relations programs, to using certain employment models, such as outsourcing, zero hours’ contract, or even using term of ‘partner’ instead of employee as applied by some newly web/app-based companies.
Companies that design their own employment relations programs are tried to minimize the ‘noise’ of the employees by providing certain level of open internal communication, easily access management team, and such effort to involve employee representatives before deciding any policy. Using this way, the companies expect that employees would not feel any need to gain ‘power’ (through union) for negotiating or communicating their grievances to the management.
Companies that use the term ‘partner’ instead of employee indeed limits the ability of the workers to form a lawful union under the company, or to join any. This raising trend was marked by the development of online/web/app-based companies, which many literatures refer as gig economy.
Nevertheless, with the freedom of association as the right of Indonesian citizen and under the sense of ‘solidarity’, those ‘partners’ and/or online workers formed such ‘online workers’ association’ both in social media and even conducted such offline manifestations to voice their grievances.
Gig economy, however, is not something new and not merely in technology or digital based business. Friedman (2014) explains that ‘gig workers’ work to complete a particular task or for a defined time. This could be employed as a waiter in a restaurant, a cleaner of a building, a singer in a pub, etc. Nevertheless, Cockayine (2016) argues that gig economy is also usually referred as on-demand or ‘sharing’ economy. In his perspective, technology and digital platform strongly enhance the development of this model, which resonates the current situation in Indonesia: online ride-hailing (ojek online), online selling, etc.
Some companies who employ this ‘partnership’ model, save lots of money as they don’t need to provide any kind of employee benefits such as holiday/sick pay, parental supports, etc as ‘normal’ companies do. Yet, those companies most possibly do not have any clear strategy to manage the grievances of their ‘partners’, which might happen quite a lot as it’s believed that ‘partners’ under this employment model have weaker ‘psychological contract’ with the companies.
These kind of gig companies have been seen unable to manage the grievances in their business models, as we can observe that the disputes and grievances of ‘partners’ through ‘online workers’ associations’, were addressed to the government, instead of the companies.
It is worth noting that industrial relations involve at least 3 actors: company, employee representations (trade unions), and government. In the event where company and employee (or in this case, partner) representations failed to establish a good employment/partner relation, government would need to intervene.
In regards to that, government has significant role to both actively facilitate the growth of economy and identifying potential disputes by designing appropriate regulations and law. It’s hardly to say that Indonesian government is quick enough to properly response to any potential disputes related to employment so far. Take example on the online ride-hailing service. At the end of 2015, the Ministry of Transportation banned this service because it’s considered as ‘unlawfully established in the context of public transportation regulation’. The President, however, argued that the service is ‘needed by the society’, which then the service continues to operate. Yet, nothing to hear from the Ministry of Manpower or published comprehensive discussion from related stakeholders about the employment model caused by this service which now make lots of ‘noise’ in the employment/partner relations.
Aside from above case, it’s interesting to see that since June 17th 2016, the government, through the Minister of Information and Technology affairs, fully supported the launch of an initiative called ‘Gerakan Nasional 1000 Start-Up Digital’ (The National Movement of 1000 Digital Start-Up). Cited from a press release, more than 32.000 people registered themselves which 6500 of them joined the provided entrepreneurship training in 10 cities, resulted 123 start-ups so far. Observing from various newly digital start-ups that employ such ‘partnership’ employment model, it is important to note that those start-ups also need be equipped with the capability to manage employment/partner relations in the future.
To maintain a positive relations and its stability, (gig) companies have to understand the importance of providing a continuous communication with employee/partner representations and to act on it. For instances, an Indonesian e-commerce based in Jakarta establishes a community for its online sellers. The community is maintained through an online platform and several offline meetings across the country to develop ‘selling skills’, but also as a platform of grievances mechanism from the sellers to the platform provider (the management). This model is also possible to be adopted by (gig companies) in transportation and education services to better manage their ‘employment’ or ‘partner’ relations.
It is believed that 3 actors of industrial relations have to establish a harmony. Some argue that trade union might not be the best form of employment representation in the near future because of the transformation of employment model. Yet, whatever the form of employment representation: could be trade union, establishment of work council (e.g. in Germany), or even softly’ managed by the company; both government and companies shall carefully provide accessible communication mechanism with the workers in creating the best working condition that could be achieved, although there might be tension of interests from each actor.